Friday, May 07, 2021

Shahbaz Sharif permitted to fly abroad for medical treatment

Opposition leader says that "as soon as his doctors allow" him, he will return to Pakistan; court gives July 3 deadline

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif. — AFP/File

  • Shahbaz Sharif given one-time permission to travel abroad on medical grounds and must return by July 3.
  • On July 5 a hearing to deliberate the removal of the Opposition leader from the government's blacklist will continue.
  • Govt to explore all legal avenues to challenge decision; PML-N spokesperson says placement of name on blacklist "illegal" move.

The Lahore High Court on Friday gave Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif "one time" permission on medical grounds to fly abroad for treatment.

A hearing to remove his name from the government's no-fly blacklist was held today to deliberate the matter, which was presided over by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi.

Shahbaz had approached the court to grant him permission as a cancer survivor to seek treatment abroad. In his petition, moved through Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar and Advocate Amjad Pervez, Shahbaz had stated that after getting bail in Ashiana Housing and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases, he went abroad and came back.

During today's court proceedings, the PML-N president produced a return ticket showing his intent to do the same this time around.

The government's counsel argued that treatment can be sought in Pakistan but the defence counsel, Amjad Pervez, stated that his client has obtained bail in all three cases against him — the Ramzan Sugar Mills, Ashiana Housing Scheme, and assets beyond known sources of income cases — and now wishes to exercise his right as a citizen of Pakistan and continue treatment abroad.

It was also argued that an appointment with Shahbaz's doctor, who had been managing his case, was already in place for Monday, and will be hard to secure at another time due to coronavirus. It was further argued that flights to and from UK could possibly be cancelled in the coming days.

Shahbaz stated that neither is he a "smuggler", nor a "terrorist" for him to be prevented from going abroad. He said that his name was added by the government to the blacklist with "ill intent".

The Opposition leader said that "as soon as his doctors allow" him, he will return to Pakistan.

The court decided to allow Shahbaz to go abroad on medical grounds from May 8 to July 3 and scheduled a hearing for July 5 to continue deliberation of the removal of his name from the blacklist.

'Govt to pursue all legal avenues against decision'

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry expressed the government's resolve to "seek all legal avenues against the decision".

"The prime minister has pointed out the weaknesses of the justice system many times," he said.

"Shahbaz Sharif has been involved in money laundering worth billions," he said, adding: "For him to run away like this would be great misfortune [for the country]."

Chaudhry said that Shahbaz had provided a guarantee in the past for the return of his brother, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, "but what became of that?"

The minister said that the Opposition "is not ready to participate in electoral reforms because this rotten system is one that serves their interests".

'Shahbaz's name was never on the Exit Control List'

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, responding to Fawad Chaudhry's remarks, said that Shahbaz's name was never in the Exit Control List (ECL).

"Imran [Khan] sahab had the names of his political opponents added to a blacklist. Shahbaz Sharif's name was added in the blacklist out of a desire for political revenge," she said.

She said that the move by the government was "illegal", and the blacklist is one that typically features names of terrorists and anti-state individuals.

Aurangzeb said that the court kept in mind Shahbaz's past history of travel and then pronounced the verdict, allowing him to travel once more.

"The allegations of billions of rupees worth of money laundering have been left behind on the containers [you stood atop on] and were never proven in any court of law," she added.

'Surprising verdict'

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill termed the verdict "surprising".

"First [Shahbaz] provided a false guarantee for this brother, allowing him to flee abroad and never return. Now he has been declared an absconder.

"Should he not have been in jail for being an accomplice to an absconder? And in their 35-year reign, they never built one hospital that could serve their treatment needs?" Gill wrote.

He then proceeded to share Shahbaz's statement of guarantee at the time Nawaz Sharif was seeking permission to go abroad for his own treatment.

"This is that sworn affidavit under which Nawaz was allowed to flee and never return. And now he wishes to flee himself. Could he not seek treatment in any Pakistani hospital? How many times will these people cheat the nation? How many times will they lie?"

(Corrected duration of travel allowed by court in paragraph 10 in light of new information)