Sunday January 29, 2023

Imran 6th Pakistani PM charged with contempt of court

August 26, 2022

LAHORE: Apart from Imran Khan, five other Pakistani Prime Ministers, including a caretaker head of government, a former army chief, an Interior Minister, numerous judges, a head of media watchdog PEMRA and a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman, etc., have till date earned the wrath and displeasure of the Supreme Court judges, research shows.

However, of all the premiers summoned by a court or sent contempt notices, only Premier Yousaf Raza Gillani had been found guilty of contempt. He was disqualified and ousted from office on June 19, 2012, by the Supreme Court for repeated non-compliance with its orders in the NRO Case. The court had ordered him to write a letter to the Swiss authorities regarding the reopening of cases against the then incumbent President, Asif Ali Zardari. Gillani refused to do so. The court had ruled in its standing orders that “Gillani was ineligible to hold the Prime Minister’s office after his April 26 conviction”, and all orders passed by him till that date were declared null and void.

Apart from Gillani, a few politicians like Daniyal Aziz, Talal Chaudhary and Nehal Hashmi (all from PML-N) have been convicted in the recent past for airing a verbal tirade against the judiciary.

It goes without saying that while courts the world over have generally been extremely harsh towards deliberate disobedience of the law, the Pakistani arbiters have also not lagged far behind in this context. Here follows a chronology of some key contempt cases in Pakistan:

Contempt proceedings against a sitting Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, were initiated in 1976 in the case filed by the National Awami Party (NAP), now called the Awami National Party (ANP). During the eventful 1970s, the National Awami Party was banned by the government and the decision was upheld by the courts at that time. However, Bhutto could not restrain himself from airing statements against the NAP, something that was not permissible in line with the court order. The late Abdul Wali Khan had then filed a contempt petition against Bhutto in 1976. Having entertained Wali Khan’s petition, the court had gone on to issue contempt notices to Bhutto. However, no concrete evidence was found against Premier Bhutto and the notices were subsequently discharged.

Another former Premier, Nawaz Sharif, had to appear personally before the Supreme Court on November 17, 1997, after a contempt notice was issued to him on the recommendation of the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, for not elevating five senior-most high court judges to the Supreme Court and reducing the strength of the apex court arbiters from 17 to 12. This was Sharif’s second stint in power.

Not amused, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah charged Nawaz Sharif with contempt of court and directed him to respond. Nawaz Sharif was facing possible disqualification from office after charges of contempt of court were brought against him, but these were eventually dismissed. But during the case, Nawaz had to tender an apology. The Nawaz Sharif-Sajjad Shah tiff had divided the Supreme Court judges too, ultimately leading to the ouster of the chief justice and later that of the then President Farooq Leghari.

On October 9, 2009, the Provincial Constitutional Order (PCO) judges were charged with contempt by the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary-led Supreme Court. Notices in this context were issued by the apex court while hearing review pleas against its July 31, 2009 orders. Most of these judges, who had violated the November 3, 2007 order and taken oath under the PCO, had submitted unconditional apologies to evade possible convictions.

In December 2009, the court issued a contempt notice to former Interior Minister Rehman Malik for changing the investigation team in the Pakistan Steel Mills corruption case.

On August 24, 2010, the Supreme Court issued a contempt of court notice to the Chairman of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Mushtaq Malik, for misleading the court over the blocking of transmissions of two private television channels. The PEMRA Chief had to save his skin by seeking indemnity.

Premier Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was also served a contempt notice in the NRO non-compliance case, but somehow, he was not disqualified as he had bowed before the court order (after the lapse of a few weeks though). Altogether, both Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Yusuf Raza Gillani had appeared before the Supreme Court on six occasions during 2012 alone. The Supreme Court had earlier ordered the arrest of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and other accused, but the National Accountability Bureau had stated it had no evidence against the suspects.

Pakistan’s former Army Chief General Aslam Beg was the first charged with contempt of court on February 21, 1993. In a newspaper interview on February 4, 1993, General Beg had admitted that he had sent an emissary to the Supreme Court to warn the judges not to restore the National Assembly. The then Chief Justice, Naseem Hassan Shah, had got infuriated over the General’s interview and held him in contempt. In this case, CJ Shah had remarked: “We are very sorry to hand over the defence of the country to a person who was so careless.” The court had finally convicted the retired General of contempt but strangely did not give any judgment about the sentence. The same court even overturned its own decision after an appeal was filed. And finally, on January 9, 1994, all proceedings against General Aslam Beg were dropped.

The second time General Beg had to face a contempt charge was on March 8, 2012, when during the hearing of the 1996 Asghar Khan Case, his statement was termed disrespectful by the judges. The Chief Justice of the time had asked Aslam Beg to tender an apology, and the former army chief went out seeking pardon.

Former Law Minister, Babar Awan, too had challenged the Supreme Court on many occasions. Consequently, he was issued a contempt notice by the Supreme Court on January 5, 2012, for his press conference of December 1, 2011, which was related to the Memo Gate scam involving Ambassador Hussain Haqqani. He was accused of ridiculing the judges and mocking them publicly, and his license to practice law was subsequently suspended on January 17, 2012, for an indefinite period.

On April 10, 2012, Babar Awan’s attorney Barrister Ali Zafar submitted a plea to the Registrar of the Supreme Court and tendered an unconditional apology on his client’s behalf. On April 18, 2012, the Supreme Court refused to accept Babar Awan’s apology. Babar had apologized for a number of times till September 2012.

On March 26, 2012, the Supreme Court issued notices to two more PPP stalwarts, Messrs Taj Haider and Sharjeel Memon, for insulting the judiciary. The duo had hit back against the judiciary after the latter had invalidated the appointment of former NAB Chairman Justice (R) Deedar Hussain Shah.

On September 11, 2012, a contempt notice was issued to the NAB Chairman of the time, Admiral (R) Fasih Bokhari, for not deliberately arresting the culprits involved in the Rental Power Projects Case. In 2013, the court served another contempt notice on Fasih Bokhari for writing a letter to President Asif Zardari.

On May 9, 2013, the Supreme Court issued a contempt notice to former caretaker Prime Minister, Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, in the case involving the appointments and transfers of 22 Federal secretaries. The caretaker PM did express regrets in his written reply, but the court was not satisfied and hence did not dispose of this case.

On December 14, 2012, MQM Chief Altaf Hussain and Farooq Sattar were served contempt notices for delivering disdainful speeches and summoned on January 7, 2013. Altaf was in London, and hence could not appear, though his lawyer had submitted an unconditional apology on his behalf which was accepted.