The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday suspended the 14-year sentences handed out to former prime minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi in the Toshakhana reference.

However, the two will not be released as they have been convicted in other cases.

Imran and Bushra Bibi were sentenced in the Toshakhana reference by an Islamabad accountability court on January 31, days before the general elections. According to the verdict, Imran and Bushra were barred from holding any public office for 10 years and slapped with a fine of Rs787 million each.

A day later, Imran and Bushra Bibi were also sentenced to seven years in jail in a case related to their marriage during the latter’s Iddat period. Prior to this, a special court established under the Official Secrets Act had also sentenced Imran and his foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to 10 years in prison for the breach of state secrets.

The reference in question was filed against the two by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in December for retaining a jewellery set received from the Saudi crown prince against an undervalued assessment. The anti-graft watchdog had alleged in the reference that during his term as prime minister, Imran and his wife had received a total of 108 gifts from different heads of state and foreign dignitaries.

Bushra Bibi had challenged her conviction on February 17 — a day after Imran did the same in the cipher and Toshakhana cases. The former first lady also challenged a government notification that declared her Banigala residence as a sub-jail following the verdict.

On February 27, the IHC had admitted the appeals against their conviction and had requisitioned records related to the trial court proceedings by March 7.

The IHC division bench had also taken up applications seeking suspension of their sentences till the final adjudication of the main appeals against their conviction. At the outset, the bench overruled the objections to the petitions raised by the registrar’s office.

Earlier in March, the IHC had asked if the authorities had sought permission from Imran before converting his Bani Gala residence into a sub-jail for Bushra Bibi.

Following today’s hearing, Imran’s counsel Barrister Ali Zafar said the IHC “delivered justice”, adding that the “scales of justice have started heading in the right direction”.

 Barrister Ali Zafar speaks to media outside IHC. — screengrab via author
Barrister Ali Zafar speaks to media outside IHC. — screengrab via author

Speaking to the media outside the IHC, he said, “The courts are standing upright for justice. The entire nation is standing with the courts.”

He contended that there was “no evidence” behind the conviction and that the jail trial was “unlawful as our counsels were not allowed to appear”. “Our lawyers were made to leave the jail and were not allowed to cross-examine either,” the PTI lawyer said.

“Such cases are considered mistrial and unconstitutional in the history,” Zafar said. He asserted that Imran could not remain in custody in the Toshakhana reference anymore, terming the case “baseless”.

The hearing

Today’s hearing was presided over by IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb. Barrister Zafar appeared as the counsel for the ex-premier and his spouse while NAB prosecutor Amjad Pervaiz was also present.

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Farooq told Zafar that his arguments would only be heard if they pertained to the suspension of the Toshakhana sentence and not to the appeal against the conviction. He said that as the appeal against the conviction was already sub judice, both pleas could not be heard concurrently.

The IHC chief justice said the appeal against the conviction would be fixed for hearing after Eidul Fitr.

Here, the NAB prosecutor said, “We have reviewed the verdict. This is a case of sentence suspension.”

At this, the court observed that the “NAB’s stance is highly commendable”.

Zafar again urged the court to hear his arguments in the Toshakhana appeal as well, contending that both were “entirely different cases”.

However, Justice Farooq said the cipher appeal proceedings would conclude within the next or two hearings, after which the Toshakhana one could be heard. “We can hear your petition seeking suspension of the sentence,” he stated.

At one point during the hearing, Justice Aurangzeb asked if the NAB wanted to present any stance on suspending the sentence. To this, the prosecutor replied, “There is no objection to the suspension of the sentence [but] the appeals cannot be heard right now.”

Here, Imran’s counsel requested the court to suspend the conviction along with the sentence, at which Justice Aurangzeb observed, “That matter is before the Supreme Court; let’s leave it for now.”

Subsequently, the court suspended the sentences of Imran and Bushra in light of the NAB prosecutor’s statement.

Accountability court verdict

Judge Moham­mad Bashir had already closed the right of cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses and asked Imran and his spouse to record their statements under Section 342 (power to examine the accused) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

While Bushra Bibi had recorded her statement in the case, Imran could not. During that hearing, Imran’s legal team had requested the court to restore the right of cross-examination but was turned down by the judge.

While the PTI founder had been presented during the hearing where the sentence was pronounced, his wife had not appeared before the court at the time.

Following the verdict’s announcement, Bushra arrived at Adiala Jail, where the NAB team was already present, to surrender to the authorities following the court’s directives. Subsequently, she had been taken into custody by the anti-graft watchdog.

How­ever, she was moved to Imran’s Bani Gala home after it was declared sub-jail in a late-night notification.

Her shifting to the residence has been under discussion for weeks as she and her husband denied submitting any application to declare the residence as a sub-jail.

In an earlier hearing, the Adiala Jail administration had opposed moving her back to the prison, claiming that overcrowding posed security threats for the former first lady.

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