LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday granted one-time permission to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PMLN President Shehbaz Sharif to go abroad for treatment.
"Keeping in view the past conduct and travel history, the fact that name of the petitioner is not on the Exit Control List (ECL) at the moment, the name of the petitioner on the blacklist, if already placed, will not stop him from one-time visit to UK from May 8, 2021 to July 3, 2021 for his medical checkup as per his personal commitment made before this court," said the interim order issued by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi after reserving the verdict for two hours.
The court was hearing the petition of Shehbaz Sharif challenging the placement of his name on the blacklist/no-fly list. Justice Najfi also directed the government and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) along with the Director-General of Immigrations and Passport (HQ) to submit a report before the court on or before the next hearing.
As the hearing commenced, Shahbaz' counsel Amjad Pervaiz argued that the government had placed the name of his client on the ECL in 2019 which was subsequently removed on the high court order in March 2019. He said the petitioner, with the permission of the court, went abroad twice and returned to the country.
He, however, pointed out that the government invented a new method of political victimisation and put his name on the blacklist. The counsel pointed out that Shahbaz had an appointment with his doctor in the United Kingdom and got a flight reservation for May 8 (today). He said the petitioner being a cancer survivor needed to visit his medical consultant regularly.
Amjad Pervez told the court that government didn't serve any notice on his client prior to inclusion of his name on the blacklist. Deputy Attorney General Rana Abdul Shakoor Khan who appeared on the court's call, however, sought time for instructions from the quarters concerned in the matter.
The judge asked the law officer to come up after a while with instructions from the authorities. After a short break, the judge resumed hearing and the law officer said the government officials were not available due to holidays. He requested the court to adjourn hearing for a date after the Eid holidays.
To a court's query, DAG Khan stated that the Supreme Court in a human rights' case of 2017 had authorised the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to act as gatekeeper by maintaining tools such as database of fugitives and prepare list of fugitives nominated in FIRs of heinous crime for placement on the ECL.
However, he admitted that the petitioner was not a fugitive of law. He said there was no emergency in the health condition of Shahbaz and in these days the UK was already badly hit by COVID-19 pandemic.
The law officer pointed out that Shahbaz had given surety before the court to bring his elder brother Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan but failed to do so. He also read the written undertaking submitted by Shahbaz in the matter of Nawaz.
Justice Najafi, however, observed that the matter in hand was not related to Nawaz. The law officer argued that the petitioner was a prime suspect in a money laundering reference and statements of the witnesses were being recorded before the trial court.
On being summoned, Shahbaz also appeared before the court. Justice Najafi asked Shahbaz as to what the emergency was for his visit abroad. The opposition leader responded that he was a cancer patient and got his treatment from London and New York. He said his treatment had already been delayed due to his latest arrest in the money laundering reference.
The counsel also presented a ticket bought for Shahbaz' return on July 3. The judge gave a one-time permission to Shahbaz to visit abroad and sought reports from the interior ministry, the FIA and director general of immigration & passport by July 5.
Earlier, the judge overruled a registrar's office objection to the petition of Shahbaz. The office said the petitioner directly approached the court without availing first remedy before the executive authority.
In his petition, Shahbaz Sharif argued that the right to travel abroad is encapsulated in freedom of movement enshrined in article 15 of the Constitution, which is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by the law in the public interest. He said the impugned act of the respondents after the removal of the petitioner's name from the ECL by the court showed malicious intentions.
It pleaded that there is no provision in the Passports Act 1974 regarding the notion of blacklist, however, the federal government formulated the Passport and Visa Manual 2006, which explicates the procedure and circumstances in which the name of a person can be blacklisted for passport facilities.
He contended that those sitting at the helms of affairs are aware about the severity of the health of the petitioner and have maliciously placed his name on the blacklist. He requested to the court to declare the impugned act of the respondents illegal and without lawful authority and permit the petitioner to go abroad for the purpose of his medical treatment.
Meanwhile, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said the government would avail all legal options against the court decision allowing Shahbaz Sharif to go abroad.
The minister, in tweets, said such hasty decisions were not taken even in the Panchayat. It was a joke with the law because Shahbaz Sharif was involved in money laundering of billions of rupees.
He said it would be unfortunate if the PMLN leader escaped from law in such a manner. Shahbaz Sharif, he said, had earlier given a guarantee that his elder brother Nawaz Sharif would return from England after medical treatment.
What had happened to that guarantee, he asked. He tagged the copy of the affidavit submitted by Shahbaz Sharif in the Lahore High Court and said it was the guarantee he had given for Nawaz Sharif's visit abroad.
Instead of giving notice to Shahbaz Sharif for giving a fake guarantee and calling Nawaz Sharif back to the country, he himself was now being sent abroad. Fawad lamented that Prime Minister Imran Khan had pointed out weaknesses in the justice system many times but the opposition parties were not ready for reforms.
The main reason for their refusal was that their interests were linked to the present rotten system, he remarked. Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Shahzad Akbar said in a television programme that there is no restriction on Shahbaz’s travel abroad now and appeal only possible after 16th.
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