Govt will probe letters laced with ‘suspicious powder’ received by judges: PM Shehbaz

Published April 4, 2024
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses a federal cabinet meeting in Islamabad on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses a federal cabinet meeting in Islamabad on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday said that the government would launch a probe into letters laced with a “suspicious powder” received by the judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts in Islamabad and Lahore.

On Tuesday, letters were delivered to all eight Islamabad High Court (IHC) judges in white envelopes sealed with cello-tape. The names of the judges and the address of the IHC were written on the envelopes. Sources said the letters had carried a threatening sign and accused the judges of being responsible for problems faced by the people of Pakistan.

The staff of two judges had opened the envelopes and found a suspicious powder inside. The matter was reported to the IHC registrar who summoned the police staff deputed for security of the high court, after which a case was registered under Section 507 (criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Section 7 (punishment for acts of terrorism) of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

The letters were issued with the incomplete address of the sender, the FIR said. The letters while giving reference to Tehreek-i-Namoos Pakistan criticised the justice system, it said, adding that a particular photo and English word “Bacillus Anthracis” were included in the letters for the threat.

The next day, similar letters arrived in the Supreme Court and the Lahore High Court (LHC), prompting the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) to register two cases in Islamabad and Lahore.

The letters in the top court were sent to Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, and Justice Aminuddin. They were received at the Receipt and Issue (R&I) Branch of the apex court from where they were forwarded to the staff of the judges.

The letters sent by an unknown group threatened the judges of the Supreme Court for “rescuing evil”. Suspicious powder was found inside the envelopes and sent to the forensic lab.

An amount of the suspicious powder was taken from each envelope and would be sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory Islamabad today for toxicological and chemical tests.

At the LHC, the judges who received the letters were Chief Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan, senior puisne judge Justice Shujaat Ali Khan, Justice Shahid Bilal Hassan, Justice Aalia Neelum, and Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh.

The personal staff of the judges found the letters in the daily mail received at the high court, an official told Dawn on condition of anonymity. He said the staff of all judges at the LHC was already alert in the wake of letters sent to the IHC judges.

The developments come more than a week after six IHC judges wrote a startling letter to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) members, regarding alleged interference by the country’s security apparatus in judicial matters.

Addressing a federal cabinet meeting in Islamabad today, PM Shehbaz said, “The letters received by judges yesterday and the powder therein — I understand that we need to investigate this and keep politics at a distance.”

PM Shehbaz recalled the developments in the matter, noting that the SC’s suo motu proceedings with regards to the allegations levelled by the IHC judges about interference in judicial affairs were ongoing. “We had fulfilled our responsibility and after that, these changes came,” he said.

Last week, PM Shehbaz met CJP Isa and the two decided to form an inquiry commission, which was later approved by the federal cabinet. However, on Monday, ex-CJP Tassaduq Hussain Jillani — tasked to head the one-man inquiry commission — recused himself from the role. At the same time, the top court took suo motu notice of the matter.

“The letters that were sent to various judges yesterday, and the reports that have emerged about a suspicious powder in them […] So I think that we should show full responsibility on this and not let any kind of politics near this [matter],” the premier stated.

“The government of Pakistan, with a sense of responsibility, will conduct an investigation into this,” PM Shehbaz asserted.

Earlier today, the Islamabad Police said it was “conducting checks at the entry routes of the higher courts and the high-security zone”.

In a post on X, the police urged citizens to carry their identification documents with them.

New IMF programme ‘very important’

Speaking on the economy, PM Shehbaz said that Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb and his team would be heading to Washington for meetings with the Fund on a new programme.

He said that a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme was “very important” for the country.

While acknowledging that the IMF conditions would “not be easy”, he emphasised that “reducing the burden on the poor” should be the government’s goal. “Our goal is to ensure the country can stand on its own feet and to reduce poverty,” he said.

The premier expressed hope that the privatisation of Pakistan International Airlines would be completed soon as per the schedule. He further said that the digitalisation of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) was under way, adding that consultants would be appointed by the end of April.

Regarding the outsourcing of airports, PM Shehbaz said a Turkish company would arrive in Pakistan on April 6 (Saturday). The premier said he and Aviation Minister Khawaja Asif would meet to discuss the matter.

On the country’s security situation and last month’s attack in Shangla that killed five Chinese nationals, the prime minister said work was speedily under way ensuring a “fool-proof security system for Chinese workers and engineers”.

“We have full focus on that and it should be hoped that we, along with the provinces, would place a comprehensive and a very fool-proof system,” he asserted.

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