PTI chief’s conviction, disqualification remain intact: legal experts

Verdict of suspension of sentence is never on merit of case, says expert

Web Desk
PTI chairman Imran Khan addressing a crowd at a public rally. — Twitter/Imran Khan
PTI chairman Imran Khan addressing a crowd at a public rally. — Twitter/Imran Khan

The suspension of former prime minister Imran Khan’s sentence by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the Toshakhana case does not undo his disqualification and conviction, which will remain intact until the court rules on the main appeal challenging the trial court’s verdict, legal experts said Tuesday.

Earlier this month, a district and sessions court in the federal capital had sentenced Khan to three years in prison and imposed a fine of Rs100,000, after finding him guilty of corrupt practices related to the state gift repository — in a move that barred him from contesting elections due later this year.

The IHC on Tuesday suspended the PTI chief’s sentence in the Toshakhana case and ordered the authorities to release him on bail.

IHC issues written verdict

In its much-anticipated eight-page written verdict, a two-member bench of the IHC comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri suspended PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s three-years sentence in the Toshakhana case and ordered his release against surety bonds worth Rs100,000.

“The instant application is allowed and the sentence awarded by the trial court vide judgment dated 5/8/2023 is suspended, consequently, the applicant is ordered to be released on bail in the instant matter subject to furnishing bail bonds in the sum of Rs100,000 with one surety in the like amount to the satisfaction the deputy registrar (judicial) of this court,” read the order.

The arguments raised by both sides as to the jurisdiction and other issues involve a deeper appreciation of the matter which at the stage of suspension is not warranted, especially, where the sentence is a short one, though lengthy arguments were addressed by the parties such questions are not decided and are left to be decided at the state when the appeal is taken up for adjudication, it added.

Commenting on the IHC’s short verdict, advocate Hafiz Ahsan Ahmed told Geo News that the verdict is not unusual or unprecedented as there were bright chances of suspension as Khan’s sentence is of three years.

However, the lawyer added that PTI’s chief conviction and disqualification would remain intact.

“The verdict of suspension of sentence is never on the merit of the case,” Ahmed explained. “One of the grounds of the suspension might be the delay in the fixing of the main appeal in the high court for the hearing, whereas another ground is that punishment being less than five years. In this case, it was three years.”

Concurring with advocate Ahmed’s view, Lawyer Raja Kahlid said that IHC’s verdict was not unusual.

“It was a short sentence which means the punishment was of three years. They (PTI) filed a petition under Section-426 of Code of Criminal Procedure for the suspension of the sentence.

"In the main appeal, the prayer is made for setting aside the conviction of the accused. However, in the appeal filed according to CrPc, the court was implored to suspend the sentence for the time being,” Kahlid said.

He explained that suspension of sentence was not unusual in those cases which have three years of punishment. 

Moreover, the legal expert further said another reason for the suspension of the sentence is that the main appeal could not be fixed early and the court might take more than six months to decide due to the backlog of cases.

However, the conviction and disqualification will remain in effect, he added.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders Atta Tarar and Azam Nazir Tarar also commented on IHC’s short verdict.

Former law minister Tarar said only the sentence has been suspended whereas the conviction was still intact.

He said that that a three-year sentence was usually suspended within a few days or months and cautioned the PTI against “celebrating too soon”.

Tarar said that the Toshakhana gifts were sold and turned into a profitable business. He called on Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial not to hear any PTI cases.

“[The] PTI chairman could not have escaped punishment in the case,” the PML-N lawyer said. “IHC gave a verdict which the Supreme Court had already given. What is the need for a lawyer if the judge becomes one,” he remarked.

Appreciating the verdict, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Barrister Ali Zafar expressed his pleasure over the high court’s decision to suspend Khan’s sentence.

“It should have been decided in four or five minutes as it was a mistrial case,” the barrister said. “The case should not be sent to the same judge.”

He elaborated that in the first stage, the sentence had been suspended and bail had been given whereas in the second stage, the main appeal would be heard.

“In stage two, the matter will either be settled or sent back for a mistrial,” he said. “There is no doubt that he (Imran Khan) is the chairman of the party.”