Thursday Mar 26, 2020
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday ordered the release of 24 suspects under trial for various corruption-related references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Those released under the order included Hussain Lawai, Taha Raza, Liaquat Qaimkhani, Mustafa Zulqarnain, and others. The suspects were under trial for various offences, including corruption in the fake bank accounts case and the rental power case, among others.
The orders were issued in the wake of the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country that has led to eight deaths and more than a 1,100 infections. IHC chief Justice Athar Minallah issued the orders.
The accountability bureau contested the decision, with an additional prosecutor of the bureau asking the court to arrange for coronavirus testing of the suspects on an immediate basis.
"Why do you want to keep under-trial suspects in detention? What if the virus spreads to other prisoners while the test results are awaited? Who will be responsible?" the IHC chief justice asked the prosecutor.
"Under trial suspects are considered innocent until the trial has concluded," IHC CJ Minallah said in his remarks. He advised the prosecution to build up solid cases against suspects and provide evidence in court.
"The maximum penalty in these cases is imprisonment of up to 14 years, not the death penalty. Unfortunately, the courts are having to do the work that the executive should be doing," he added.
The court then issued orders for the release of the 24 prisoners under-trial for various offences.
The IHC had last week ordered the issuance of bail for prisoners who were facing trial for minor crimes in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minullah made the decision after hearing a case regarding 1,362 prisoners incarcerated in crowded jails.
During the hearing, the court inquired from officials if prisoners who were facing jail-time without having been tried could be released. Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Hamza Shafqaat assured the court that no prisoner held at Adiala Jail has been infected with the virus.
However, Justice Minallah worried that the coronavirus outbreak had worsened in China after it spread among prisoners. He said that the prisons in Pakistan were in dire straits and if (God forbid) any prisoner becomes infected, the situation would get out of control.
While responding to the Advocate General Islamabad’s query that if the relief would also apply to prisoners facing NAB trial, the IHC judge said that the court had already told the authority to avoid unnecessary arrests. The court also ordered the release of suspects in police custody.