ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has said that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan would be granted protective bail if he appears before the court in person.
Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh's remarks came as he heard Khan's plea seeking protective bail in a case lodged against him for protests outside the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP) office.
The PTI chief moved the high court after an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Islamabad rejected his bail in the same case earlier in the day — after Khan failed to appear in person before it.
The ousted prime minister, who was removed from power via a no-confidence move, was booked in the case in October last year after the Toshakhana verdict was announced by the ECP, sparking countrywide protests. Khan had been on bail on medical grounds after he was injured in an assassination attempt in Wazirabad during a rally on November 3.
Not only had the ATC summoned the PTI chief, but a banking court had also asked Khan to appear before it in the prohibited funding case. However, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) order the banking court to hold its verdict till February 22 — in a sigh of relief for the ex-prime minister.
The LHC said that it would ensure Khan's security and asked his counsel to ensure the PTI chief's presence tomorrow (Thursday) as an in-person appearance was the first rule in a protective bail case.
At the onset of the hearing, Khan’s legal counsel contended that according to his medical report, it was difficult for the PTI chief to walk.
“Khan wants to appear in the relevant court, he contended, “however, according to the doctor, he will not be able to walk again for three weeks.”
Khan’s counsel then requested the court to grant him protective bail on medical grounds.
To this, Justice Saleem said, “the appearance of the suspect is necessary even in the case of a protective bail.”
He further said that in light of the problem, the PTI chief could come to the court in an ambulance.
Asserting that the law was the same for all regardless of power is prestige, the justice stated: “In principle, I should dismiss this petition, but I am making a concession.”
Khan’s lawyer then argued that there were “security concerns.” The court then offered to send police to bring Khan to the court to ensure his safety.
“The law is set,” the justice reiterated, “the suspect must appear before the court. If you so desire, I can ask the Punjab IG to ensure Khan’s security.”
He then ordered that Khan should be brought before the court by 8pm later today, adding that he was habitual of working late. The court then adjourned the hearing for some time.
Once the hearing resumed, PTI Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry appeared before the LHC and sought Justice Sheikh's permission to speak.
In response, the judge said that since Fawad is not in the lawyer’s uniform, he cannot speak in the courtroom.
Then, Khan's lawyer began his arguments and told the court that the IHC had also granted relief to the PTI chief on medical grounds as the doctors have not yet allowed the ex-prime minister to travel.
The judge then said that the first rule for protective bail is that the suspect should be presented before the court for seeking bail. The lawyer said that he would present his client via video link.
"Implement the procedure. However, if you guarantee that you will present your client in the morning, then I will adjourn the hearing till tomorrow," the judge remarked.
"Whether you bring him on a stretcher or an ambulance, it doesn't matter, but without his in-person appearance, I will not grant bail," Justice Sheikh said.
Fawad intervened and asked the court to set tomorrow's date for hearing arguments. The LHC declined and said that if Khan's in-person presence is guaranteed, only then will the hearing be adjourned.
The lawyer then asked the court to allow him to consult with his client. The court then adjourned the hearing till 8:15pm.
Upon the resumption of the hearing, as Khan wasn't present in the court, Justice Sheikh asked once again: "Why can't he appear before the court?"
The lawyer told the court that doctors had prohibited his client from walking. The judge then asked the lawyer who has asked him to walk.
The lawyer argued that not only were there medical restrictions but there were security concerns as well. The judge said that he would ensure that Khan gets the required security. The court then adjourned the hearing till tomorrow.
During the hearing, Khan's lawyer Babar Awan highlighted that the additional sessions judge had granted interim bail to the PTI chief till February 27.
Awan requested the court to extend the bail, adding that Khan had tried to come but could not travel. "Imran Khan neither tried running away from the country nor the court," he said.
The judge said that other accused should also be given relief if Khan was given relief for a bullet injury. At this, Awan said that the court should give last chance to his client. "I am willing to submit a surety bond of Rs10,000," he added.
"Let me take instructions to withdraw the bail plea," said the lawyer. The ATC judge remarked that the court will announce a verdict if the bail petition is not withdrawn.
Later, after waiting for the PTI chief, who was on interim bail, for more than an hour, Judge Raja Jawad Abbas Hassan of the ATC announced the verdict to cancel Khan's bail.
The banking court had also summoned Khan at 3:30pm as his bail was about to expire in the prohibited funding case. But the PTI chief moved the IHC to seek the court from issuing a verdict.
The IHC has ordered the banking court not to issue its verdict on the bail plea of PTI chief Khan till February 22.
The court had asked Khan to appear before it in the prohibited funding case by 3:30pm at the expiry of his bail today, however, the former prime minister challenged the order in the high court.
A two-member bench, comprising Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, heard the PTI chief’s plea.
During the hearing, Khan’s lawyer Barrister Salman Safdar told the bench that the banking court had granted interim bail on October 17. He added that on November 3 the PTI chief was shot at during the long march in Wazirabad.
“Exemption was requested six times after the incident and 2 times before the incident,” said Khan’s lawyer. He added that his client never shied away from appearing in court, adding that the medical grounds and facts were before everyone.
The court, after hearing the arguments, issued a stay order and barred the banking court until February 22 from issuing a verdict in this regard. The bench also asked the counsel to submit a fresh medical report of the PTI chief at the next hearing.
Today, when judge Rakhshanda Shaheen arrived at the court she directed the officials to empty the room as there were a lot of people present. The judge then ordered a break so the courtroom could be emptied.
When the hearing resumed, Khan’s lawyer Barrister Safdar started his arguments on the extension of the PTI chief’s interim bail for three weeks.
The lawyer told the judge that his client was over 70 years but was fit as he exercised regularly. He added that it takes three months for a young person to recover in case of a bullet injury.
Safdar also shared that his client was also exempted from appearing for biometric verification due to his old age. He then urged the court to grant the former prime minister exemption from appearing in the case for three more weeks. The lawyer also shared the x-rays of the PTI chief.
“We are only asking for three weeks so he can stand without support. If our plea is not heard then it must be written that our medical [assessment] is not correct,” said Safdar. He also added that the court must also write that the PTI chief was not hit.
The lawyer, before wrapping up his arguments, also informed the court that his client was not present in Islamabad at the moment.
Once Khan’s lawyer wrapped up his arguments, co-accused Tariq Shafi’s lawyer Mian Ali Ashfaq came to the rostrum.
Ashfaq contended that a criminal case cannot be filed in the prohibited funding case. “Even if the first information report (FIR) is admitted there will be no conviction,” claimed Ashfaq. He also asked if there was any statement or document which pointed out that the funds were prohibited.
He argued that a mosque is not bound to ask its donors about their source of income. The counsel added that even if Abraaj founder Arif Naqvi committed a crime then how can the party that collected the funds be declared criminal?
“It is alleged that the crime was committed by Arif Naqvi abroad. Arif Naqvi has been sentenced there, so what are we doing here?” asked the lawyer. He also claimed that the Federal Investigation Agency was hiding facts.
Shafi’s lawyer asked how his client, Imran Khan and Amir Kayani were at fault if Naqvi defaulted abroad. At this point, Judge Shaheen intervened and told the lawyer that he was giving incorrect arguments as the case was only related to bail.
“I am not giving any observation, this is only a case of bail,” said the judge. After the arguments of the counsels of the PTI chief and co-accused were wrapped up, special prosecutor Raja Rizwan Abbasi presented his arguments.
Abbasi said that it was contended in court that no one is questioned if they give funds to a mosque. “It only happens in Pakistan and not in the United Arab Emirates.”
After all the lawyers had spoken, the judge ordered Khan to appear in court by today.
“If Imran Khan does not appear then the law will take its course,” Judge Shaheen had warned.
Once the hearing resumed, Khan's lawyer said that the high court has stopped this court from issuing orders on the bail plea. At this, the judge replied that she did not receive any order in this matter.
The lawyer said asked the judge to wait for the order till 4pm. To which the judge said she will if this order has been issued, saying that she will announce a decision otherwise.
"If the court does not issue a stay order, a verdict on the bail plea will be announced," said the judge.
The banking court then sought a copy of the stay order issued by the IHC. The judge said that the copy will be verified once the court receives it. The hearing was adjourned till then.
Once the hearing resumed, Judge Shaheen confirmed that she had received the order from IHC and delayed the announcement of a verdict on the bail plea.