ISLAMABAD: Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah Wednesday grilled PTI Chairman Imran Khan during a hearing of a contempt case against him over his derogatory remarks uttered during a rally in the federal capital.
The PTI chairman appeared before a five-member bench of the IHC amid tight security.
The Islamabad Police has placed tents from the entry gate to the courtroom and special passes have been issued for lawyers and journalists for today’s hearing.
Imran Khan was summoned by the IHC to appear before it today after a show-cause notice was issued to him.
On August 23, a larger bench of the IHC issued a show-cause notice to Khan after taking up contempt of court proceedings against him for threatening additional sessions judge during a public rally.
A five-member bench comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar is hearing the case.
At the outset of today's proceedings, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, while expressing his displeasure over the written reply submitted by PTI Chairman Imran Khan to the show-cause notice, said that he was not expecting such a reply.
Addressing Hamid Khan, counsel of Imran Khan, Minallah stated, “The court was expecting that you will enhance the judiciary’s respect before coming here”.
A political party believes in rule of law and the constitution, he said, adding, “I am saddened personally by the written reply.”
Justice Minallah said that he hoped that the PTI chairman would boost the court's confidence, however, it should be noted that just like "the time that has passed by cannot come back, the words uttered through one's tongue cannot be taken back".
The court said that Khan is a popular leader and has a massive following, therefore, he should think before he speaks.
"I was expecting that he [Khan] might come to terms with the fact that he has done something wrong. A political leader has several followers, they should think before they speak."
"Through your response, I feel that Imran Khan has not understood that he has done anything wrong," the IHC CJ told the PTI chairman's lawyer.
In the last three years — during PTI's tenure — the IHC has raised the issue of torture without any fear, noting that the state has encouraged torture in the last 70 years.
"Torture, at any level, cannot be allowed. Is there a worse form of torture than making someone disappear?" the court asked, as the PTI keeps claiming that party leader Shahbaz Gill was tortured by the police.
Taking forward the PTI's claims, Khan had earlier this month went on to criticise the additional district and sessions judge for rejecting his bail plea of Gill.
Justice Minallah asked who had control of Adiala Jail — where Gill was imprisoned for a few days. "If there's even a small complaint of torture, then can the jail authorities imprison a person without medical examination?"
The IHC CJ went on to say that the PTI should look at the cases of journalists Asad Toor and Absar Alam. He added that during the last three years, the IHC sent such matters to the PTI's federal cabinet.
"I wish they had raised their voice in this regard then."
During the proceedings, Islamabad Advocate-General Jahangir Jadoon tried to speak but was stopped. "This matter is between the person who has allegedly committed contempt of court and the court."
The IHC CJ then asked when the high court wrapped up the case of the alleged torture of Gill and when the speech was made. At this, Khan's counsel said that the court concluded the case on August 22 and the PTI chairman delivered the speech on August 20.
"The matter was already pending in the IHC while he made the speech. You should read Firdous Ashiq Awan's judgement. Under PECA ordinance, the person speaking against institutions will not even get bail for six months."
This court, IHC CJ said, nullified the PECA ordinance and then a smear campaign was started against it. "However, the courts never care about criticism."
Moving on, Justice Minallah said that Khan keeps asking why the courts were opened at 12am — during the National Assembly's vote of no-confidence against the ex-premier in April.
"This court will remain open for the weak 24/7. However, the courts do not need to justify before anyone as to why they open and when."
"The case of contempt of court is very serious," he said, noting that the courts opening at 12am was a very clear message that they did not want the repetition of October 12, 1999 — the day when former dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf imposed martial law.
The IHC CJ then said that political leaders are misusing social media as photos of him and a judge of the Supreme Court were made viral and they were termed leaders of a political party.
"Wrong information was shared regarding a flat registered against my name in a foreign country," he said, adding that his institution has also committed several mistakes.
The IHC CJ said that political parties do not prohibit their followers from uploading such posts. "If a leader tells their workers to stop, this will indeed stop."
In response, Khan's counsel asked whether he could speak.
The lawyer said that he was aware that the court was disappointed by the response, but noted that the petition raised general legal points.
"However, I do not want to raise them now."
The IHC CJ then said that this was an open court and everything happening over here is transparent and that he would not allow contempt of court proceedings to be misused.
The court then said that this case also includes the matter pertaining to freedom of speech.
The lawyer then argued that he has also raised the point of dismissing the case as Khan had no intention of saying something like that against the judge.
The court then noted that the matter of Gill's torture was already being heard at the IHC. "Check the record, then submit your response again, otherwise this court will take the matter forward."
"This matter is very serious, the contempt of court proceedings could have ended today, but they aren't due to the response that was submitted."
The former prime minister has submitted his reponse to the notice, offering to withdraw remarks against Additional Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry “if they were inappropriate” but did not apologise for threatening her.
The reply read: “There is another critical aspect of the matter. According to the order passed on the said note of the worthy Registrar, the Hon’ble Acting Chief Justice observed that ‘the matter was discussed in the tea room and all my colleagues unanimously agreed with proceeding forward’.”
“It is submitted again with respect, and without prejudice to the submissions on the merits of the alleged contempt, that once again there is a serious procedural lapse in the instant matter which will have a great bearing upon the matter.
“It is submitted with the utmost respect that all those Hon’ble Judges who agreed to the initiation of the instant proceeding, having pre-judged the matter, might have to consider recusal from the matter, in the interest of justice, due process and rule of law.”
The proceedings were initiated against him on the basis of newspaper clippings critical of him, he said. “As someone who believes in rule of law and a strong independent justice system, the respondent does not believe in hurting the feelings of honourable judges.
“The respondent submits with humility that if words he uttered is regarded as inappropriate, he is willing to take them back,” he said, urging the court to evaluate the speech within its context.
Khan added that his remarks against the additions sessions judge were not obstruction of justice, nor were they intended to undermine the integrity and credibility of the judicial system.
“If, in a public rally and if in the flow of speech, the Respondent uttered such words which could annoy this Honourable Court, the Respondent wants to categorically state that it was not his intent.”
The reply maintained that the former prime minister had mistaken the additional sessions judge for the magistrate performing administrative functions under the direction of the federal government who was hell-bent on torturing Shahbaz Gill and violating his fundamental rights.
“It was in this misconception that she was referred to a magistrate,” it said, adding that the PTI chief had no intention of saying anything against the judicial officer.
“It is submitted that the respondent had no motive (ill-will) behind the said speech or remarks, nor were those directed specifically towards the judicial officer.”
The PTI chief requested the IHC to withdraw the show-cause notice and dispose of contempt of court proceedings.
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