Tuesday June 25, 2024

Court rejects Imran’s plea for warrants suspension

Verdict says PTI chief has lost some of normal rights granted by procedural, substantive laws due to law and order situation

By By Khalid Iqbal & Our Correspondent
March 17, 2023
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan speaks during an interview with AFP at his residence in Lahore on March 15, 2023. — AFP
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan speaks during an interview with AFP at his residence in Lahore on March 15, 2023. — AFP

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Additional District and Sessions Judge (ADSJ), Islamabad, Zafar Iqbal, on Thursday rejected former prime minister Imran Khan’s request seeking suspension of non-bailable arrest warrants issued in the Toshakhana case and once again directed the police to arrest the PTI chairman to present him in court on March 18.

On the other hand, the LHC postponed the police operation at the Zaman Park till March 17 (today) and ordered the party not to hold a rally at Minar-e-Pakistan on Sunday. The Islamabad

court verdict stated: “[…] it is concluded that the application is not justified by law as well as fact which is hereby rejected.”

It mentioned that the applicant has “prayed that in view of the undertaking given by him and the sureties offered by him to the satisfaction of this court, the order dated 13.03.2023 may kindly be recalled and suspend the warrant of arrest.

“Keeping in view the law and order situation created by the applicant, he has lost some of the normal rights granted by procedural as well as substantive laws and he has to actually surrender before the court due to his defiance of the court process. Such eventuality is never appreciated by the court and it is regarded as willful default.”

“Keeping in view post order development of issuance of non-bailable warrant of arrest and act and conduct of the applicant, the warrant may not be cancelled just on the basis of his undertaking,” it stated.

Judge Iqbal stressed that the law is equal for the powerful and weak segments of society and it is not a fun to tender such an undertaking after causing great loss to the public exchequer as well as damage to persons and properties.

During the proceedings, Judge Iqbal asked Khan’s counsel why the situation in Lahore’s Zaman Park was so bad. “This warrant has become not only the most expensive in Pakistan but the world. The government has spent millions of rupees to follow through on this warrant.”

He observed: “It is not possible that Imran Khan is harassed when he appears before the court. We are a poor country and it is not feasible to spend millions of rupees on a warrant.”

The judge added that if the PTI chief surrenders himself to the authorities, then he would tell the police to stand down and asked the counsel what could be amended in Khan’s warrants.

The court then said that it was “very strange” of Khan to resist arrest and noted that violence should not have taken place. The judge said had Khan presented himself before the court, the situation might’ve been different as his absence has complicated matters.

“The court wants to completely cooperate with Imran Khan and it does not wish for any harm to him, however, there were laws to be followed.”

The court said that it had to follow IHC’s orders, which mentioned that the trial court’s decision of issuing the arrest warrants was legally justified.

“Has Imran Khan presented himself before the court?” the judge asked. “We want Imran Khan to appear before the court. Why isn’t he presenting himself before us? What’s the reason behind it?” he asked, noting that in line with the law, Khan should assist the police and not resist it.

“Imran Khan created a scene by resisting [arrest],” the judge said, adding that the IHC’s order also mentions that the lower court’s order should not be affected through “illegal actions”.

Earlier, at the start of hearing, Additional District and Sessions Judge, Islamabad, Zafar Iqbal, asked former prime minister Imran Khan to surrender to concerned authorities to avoid arrest. The court will never suspend the arrest warrant of Imran Khan in this situation, the judge declared. The judge mentioned that the decision had been taken after reviewing each and every aspect of the law, hoping that the petitioners would enjoy reading the detailed verdict. He conducted the day-long hearing, which was adjourned twice.

Earlier in the day, the judge expressed his indignation when the PTI chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan filed an undertaking in the court on Thursday, promising to appear in the court on March 18.

During the hearing, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) lawyer Saad Hassan and Islamabad Inspector General of Police Dr Akbar Nasir Khan appeared in the court. “IG Sahib, tell us why did you not implement the arrest warrant?” the judge asked. “What do you say? Should an exemption be given [to Imran] or not?”

The official replied that the Islamabad Police officials, who had gone to Lahore, were not even allowed to meet Imran. “Political workers used force to stop the police.”

IGP Nasir elaborated that policemen were hit with sticks and stones. “Today, I have come to court on behalf of the 65 policemen who were injured [during the operation] and are in hospitals,” he said, adding that never before had the police faced something like this.

The police official further revealed that the security personnel at Zaman Park were unarmed. He presented the list of injured officers in the court along with pictures from the spot.

“My opinion is that if you want to give leeway to one person, then the same should be given to 220 million people also. The law is equal for all,” he stressed.

At this point, the PTI lawyers in court interrupted in disagreement.

The judge inquired about the damage to property during the operation. IGP Nasir said that 10 police vans and water canons were burnt down. The extent of damage is being determined in Lahore, he added. Here, ECP’s Hassan began presenting his arguments. He said that this was not the first time Imran had given an undertaking to the court, pointing out that earlier too his promises were not fulfilled. “On several occasions, even I said he should be given leeway,” he recalled. “But Imran took out a rally in Lahore… his excuses regarding security are unacceptable.” Hassan went on to say that it was even possible for an MPA to bring 2,000 people to the streets and create a law and order situation. “I have no objections if Imran presents himself before the court on March 18 but he is being given an extraordinary relief,” he contended, stressing that the law didn’t allow cancellation of arrest warrants without an appearance.

The lawyer further clarified that the IHC had not issued any directives to the trial court but had, in fact, instructed the suspect to consult with the latter. “The only difference is that the undertaking has Imran’s signatures today,” he said.

He also recalled that the first time police had gone to arrest Imran, they were told that he wasn’t present. “And the second time, the police were attacked.”

The lawyer highlighted that there was no difference in the undertakings Imran submitted earlier and today except for a few “spelling mistakes”, adding that even “touts” could submit such documents.

For his part, Imran’s lawyer Haris stated that the IHC had told the petitioner to take the undertaking to the trial court and approve surety after verifying it. “I haven’t talked about the cancellation of warrants, but about their suspension,” he argued. “It is just a matter of two days. Imran will appear in the court on March 18.”

Subsequently, the court reserved its verdict in the case. ADSJ Zafar Iqbal said that a detailed order would be issued. “I will leave only after writing and signing the order,” he assured the respondents.

The judge also told them that there was no point in waiting in court because “I don’t know how long it will take to complete the order”.

Judge Zafar Iqbal fumed as the PTI lawyer submitted the undertaking, inquiring “from where you derived the concept of undertaking?”

The judge further asked the counsel, “Tell us, where is Imran Khan?”

Advocate Khawaja Haris argued was it necessary to arrest Imran Khan and then bring him to court?

The judge responded, “The court wants him to appear himself. What’s the reason for his absence? Imran Khan should cooperate with the police, not resist them.”

On Wednesday, the Islamabad High Court, while hearing the PTI’s challenge to the arrest warrants, had ordered the party to submit an affidavit in the trial court.

During the proceedings on Thursday, Khawaja Haris opined that after the undertaking, there was no need to maintain the arrest warrants.

Haris said Imran Khan had submitted the undertaking he would be in the court on March 18. However, the judge remarked Imran Khan should surrender himself now and the court would order the authorities not to arrest him.

Khawaja Haris said the concept of undertaking was derived from Section 76, on which the judge hit back, saying Section 76 was about bailable warrants and not non-bailable warrants. “Had the warrants been bailable, then there would have been no problem. But the warrants were non-bailable. Your arguments are about bailable arrest warrants.”

Khawaja Haris said, “The court has two options. The applicant wants to come and the court should accept the undertaking and cancel the non-bailable arrest warrants. The second option is the court should issue bailable warrants by accepting surety.”

The judge asked if the arrest warrants were issued as per law, then why there was resistance? “They could have staged a peaceful protest. They should not have created such a scene.”

The judge further remarked that in criminal cases, accused usually appear in court in person, which normally leads to withdrawal of warrants. “There is nothing like that the police will sit idle and wait for March 18,” the judge added.

Khawaja Haris asked the court to issue a notice to ECP, which filed the Toshakhana Reference.

The judge then announced a break in the hearing while issuing a notice to the ECP officials summoning them to appear before the court at 12 pm.

Meanwhile, the Lahore High Court (LHC) Thursday stopped the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) from holding a rally at the Iqbal Park (Minar-e-Pakistan) this Sunday and asked the party to let people live their routine lives. The court also postponed the police operation at Zaman Park till March 17 (today).

The party was planning to hold a public rally at Lahore’s Minar-e-Pakistan on March 19 and PTI Chairman Imran Khan was set to lead it despite “security threats”.

PTI Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry had moved the high court a day earlier seeking to stop the police operation in the Zaman Park area. The police had taken action to arrest Khan in the Toshakhana case as per court orders.

After an initial hearing, the high court had ordered the police to suspend the operation till 10am today, which helped calm the situation at the former prime minister’s residence, which had turned into a battleground. But on Thursday, when Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh resumed the hearing, he noted that neither the LHC nor the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had stopped the law enforcers from executing the former prime minister’s arrest warrants. In the order issued later, the court said that the “order passed yesterday” shall remain enforced till the next hearing — meaning that the Zaman Park operation had been halted till tomorrow.

The PTI workers clashed for nearly 24 hours with the law enforcers trying to get through the party supporters and arrest Khan, who was voted out as the prime minister last April.

Scores of people — mostly police personnel — were injured in the process as law enforcers fired teargas and party supporters resorted to throwing Molotov cocktails.

As the hearing was underway, Justice Saleem said that he does not “find any issue” in the situation, but noted that neither of the parties involved in the case had read the law. “All of these issues have arisen because the law was not read,” he said, adding that today, “all of us will read the law together”. He said that both sides had “jammed the system”.

Justice Saleem reprimanded the PTI counsel and said that the issue was of Khan’s warrants and the party kept knocking on the doors of both IHC and LHC. “You are unaware of where you have to plead. We just have to follow the law in this case.”

As Fawad entered the courtroom, the judge told him that his party was not following the law. “You [people] have pushed the nation into suffering.”

At this, the PTI leader told the court that when the party chief had to appear before four courts, subsequently, it becomes hard for him. “We are 100% sure about an attack on Imran Khan and that is why we had requested his presence at hearings via video link.”

The judge then said that there was a proper procedure for seeking security for a person and stressed that the party should bring “itself inside the system’s ambit”. The judge then slammed the party for not planning its public gathering ahead of time and said that if they wanted to hold a jalsa, then the preparations should have begun 15 days prior. “For God’s sake, let the people live their routine lives. Your rally will not take place this Sunday. Even if a person gets married, they plan ahead,” he said. The judge then asked the party leader to sit down with authorities and sort out the issue. “We are being embarrassed as a nation,” the judge remarked, asking the PTI to once again reschedule its rally. Punjab Advocate General Shan Gul then told the judge that the IHC’s order had also been issued. The advocate general said that there was no need for this hearing. At this, Justice Saleem said that he had not touched the arrest warrants. “Neither the Lahore High Court nor the Islamabad High Court stopped from executing the arrest warrants.” The court then adjourned the hearing till 11am tomorrow.