Thursday, March 16, 2023
ISLAMABAD: An Islamabad court Thursday rejected Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan's plea seeking the suspension of non-bailable arrest warrants issued in the Toshakhana case.
Additional District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal announced the verdict reserved earlier redirecting the authorities concerned to arrest the former prime minister and present him before the court on March 18.
He mentioned that the decision has been taken after reviewing each and every aspect of the law, hoping that the petitioners will enjoy reading the detailed verdict.
Imran Khan’s indictment in the reference, which was scheduled for February 28, was differed multiple times before, due to his continuous absence from the hearing. Later, the court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant for the PTI chairman.
The party approached the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday requesting it to suspend Khan's non-bailable arrest warrants in the Toshakhana case, but the high court directed the deposed prime minister's counsel to move the trial court as the order for his arrest was "in line with the law".
The additional district and sessions judge presided over today's hearing where Khan's counsel provided the court with two options — either suspend the issued warrants or issue bailable arrest warrants.
Meanwhile, the situation at Khan's Zaman Park residence is seemingly calm following the Lahore High Court's (LHC) orders of stopping the police operation till 10am today. But when the court resumed the hearing today, it clarified that it has not stopped police from executing the arrest warrants and asked PTI to resolve the ongoing issue.
PTI workers and police clashed for nearly 24 hours as Zaman Park virtually became a battleground, with the law enforcers trying to get through supporters and arrest Khan, who was voted out as the prime minister last April.
Scores of people — including police personnel and PTI workers — were injured in the process as the law enforcers fired teargas and party supporters resorted to throwing Molotov cocktails.
Legal proceedings against Khan began after he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote early last year. Since then, he has held nationwide protest rallies demanding a snap election, during one of which he was shot and wounded.
“[…] it is concluded that the application is not justified by law as well as fact which is hereby rejected,” the written verdict read.
The verdict mentioned that the applicant has “prayed that in view of the undertaking given by him and the sureties offered by him to the satisfaction of this court, the order dated 13.03.2023 may kindly be recalled and suspend the warrant of arrest.
“Keeping in view the law and order situation created by the applicant, he has lost some of the normal rights granted by procedural as well as substantive laws and he has to actually surrender before the court due to his defiance of the court process.
“Such eventuality is never appreciated by the court and it is regarded as willful default.”
Judge Iqbal stressed that the law is equal for the powerful and weak segments of society and it is not a fun tender such an undertaking after causing great loss to the public exchequer as well as damage to persons and properties.
“Keeping in view post order development of issuance of non-bailable warrant of arrest and act and conduct of the applicant, the warrant may not be cancelled just on the basis of his undertaking,” it stated.
At the outset of the hearing, the PTI chief's lawyer Khawaja Harris read out the IHC's order on the party's petition against the arrest warrants.
In response, the judge said that the trial court has not received the IHC's order through the official process, but noted that the issue can be resolved within a second and asked where is Khan.
"Has Imran Khan presented himself before the court?" the judge asked. At this, Harris asked the judge whether it was important for the former prime minister to appear before the court in person.
"We want Imran Khan to appear before the court. Why isn't he presenting himself before us? What's the reason behind it?" he asked, noting that in line with the law, Khan should assist the police and not resists it.
"Imran Khan created a scene by resisting [arrest]," the judge said, adding that the IHC's order also mentions that the lower court's order should not be affected through "illegal actions".
The judge also remarked that there "would be no issue" if the warrants were bailable, but the warrants issued against Khan were non-bailable. "The arguments you have presented are related to bailable arrest warrants," the judge told the lawyer.
Harris then asked the judge whether he wanted to remain stern and keep Khan's arrest warrants active. At this, the judge added that the warrants were issued to ensure Khan's in-person presence.
The lawyer then added Khan himself has said that he wants to appear before the court and he is not seeking any exemptions.
You have two options, Harris said, adding that the first option is to suspend the non-bailable warrant by accepting the undertaking request, and the second is to accept the surety and issue a bailable arrest warrant.
The PTI's lawyers, requesting to suspend the arrest warrants, said that Khan wants to give an undertaking to the court that he will appear in the session court on March 18.
The judge then said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should also be issued a notice. At this, the lawyer said that the court should issue the notice and summon the election commission today.
Judge Iqbal also asked Khan's counsel why the situation in Lahore's Zaman Park was so "bad". "This warrant has become not only the most expensive in Pakistan but the world. The government has spent millions of rupees to follow through on this warrant."
Khan's counsel lamented that whatever is happening at Zaman Park should not have taken place, and at this, the judge said that Khan should have been brought straight to the court.
"It is not possible that Imran Khan is harassed when he appears before the court. We are a poor country and it is not feasible to spend millions of rupees on a warrant."
The judge added that if the PTI chief surrenders himself to the authorities, then he would tell the police to stand down and asked the counsel what could be amended in Khan's warrants.
Harris then pleaded that Khan is giving an undertaking and that the court should suspend his warrants. "The warrants were issued in line with the law, then why did [authorities] face resistance? It is the nation's money. The most you could have done was to hold a peaceful protest."
The judge said in criminal cases, suspects appear before the court and once they do, the non-bailable arrest warrants are suspended. "The police can't sit idle when arrest warrants are issued for March 18."
The judge then added that he was issuing a notice to the ECP and adjourned the hearing till 12pm.
Once the hearing resumed, Law Officer Tahir Kazim told the court that the investigation officer in the case was in Lahore and the election commission's counsel will appear before the court at 2:30pm.
Khan's lawyer urged the court to use its authority and suspend the arrest warrants and if the judge were to restore the warrants at 2:30pm, then the counsel required time to file an appeal against it.
Harris said that the court should make a decision after analysing all the aspects. In response, Judge Iqbal said that the court's decision was valid and in line with the law.
The judge said had Khan presented himself before then the situation might've been different as his absence has complicated matters. "The court wants to completely cooperate with Imran Khan and it does not wish for any harm to him, however, there were laws to be followed."
The court said that it has to follow IHC's orders, which mentioned that the trial court's decision of issuing the arrest warrants was legally justified.
The PTI chief's legal counsel then reiterated his appeal of suspending Khan's warrants and asked the court to issue bailable arrest warrants. He also mentioned that the IHC has asked to consider the undertaking as well.
"Imran Khan will not once, but present himself multiple times before the court. Imran Khan will appear before the court on March 18 as well," Harris said.
The court then said that it was "very strange" of Khan to resist arrest and noted that violence should not have taken place.
The judge then adjourned the proceedings till the appearance of the ECP's lawyer.
When the hearing resumed again, Islamabad Inspector General of Police Akbar Nasir Khan said police representatives were not allowed to meet the former prime minister.
The IGP said that "no one" from the PTI leadership spoke to Islamabad police and instead, Molotov cocktails were thrown at them. "Police personnel, who were at Zaman Park to implement court orders, were tortured."
He added that the personnel were not carrying any weapons and asked the court what answer would he give to the families of the law enforcers who were injured.
"In the past, it was not unusual for the police to arrest someone from their house and present them before the court. If one person is given exemptions, then others should be given the same as well."
The judge asked the IG how much damage was incurred to state property. Khan told the court that 65 policemen were injured and the police's water cannon was burnt.
ECP lawyer Saad Hassan termed the demand of suspending Khan's arrest warrants "ridiculous" and noted that until a suspect does not present themself before the court, their warrants cannot be suspended. He then demanded the court keep his warrants intact.