A larger bench of the Islamabad High Court has given one week’s time to PTI Chief Imran Khan for coming up with a more appropriate response in the contempt of court case against him.
Imran Khan appeared before the court in person on Wednesday, a day after his counsel Hamid Khan submitted a reply to the show-cause notice issued by the court. The PTI Chief offered to take back his ‘contemptous’ words against Additional Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry but stopped short of offering an unconditional apology.
The court dismissed his response and has now given him another chance. It also downplayed the notion that judicial decisions could be influenced by amassing people outside courts.
In a written order, issued shortly after the hearing, the court said it was not withdrawing the show-cause notice served on Imran Khan.
Authorities in the federal capital installed barricades and barbed wires inside and outside the Islamabad High Court (IHC) for the high-profile hearing.
Imran Khan was represented by Hamid Khan while Babar Awan was also in the courtroom.
Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf represented the government. Additional Attorney General Munawar Iqbal was also there to assist him.
The five-member larger bench, comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar began the hearing shortly after 2:30pm.
As the proceedings started, Imran Khan’s counsel Hamid Khan read out a written reply he submitted to the court a day earlier on the behalf of Imran Khan.
In his reply, Imran Khan said that he was ready to take back his words about Additional Sessions Judge Zeba Chauhdry if the court deemed them inappropriate. However, he stopped short of offering an unconditional apology.
The PTI Chief also maintained that he mistook Judge Zeba for a judicial magistrate.
IHC Chief Justice Minallah said he did not expect Hamid Khan to come up with such a response as the senior judge was not only representing Khan but was also an amicus curiae, or a friend of the court.
He said that the lower court that was subjected to comments by Khan is the court for the common man, who does not have access to the high court.
The chief justice asked whether it was appropriate for a person with Imran Khan’s stature to do what he did.
Referring to Imran Khan’s position about Shehbaz Gill allegedly being subjected to torture, the justice said that “we have raised the issue of torture for three years without any fear.”
The worst example of torture is enforced disappearances, he added.
Justice Minallah also referred to the cases of Absar Alam and Asad Toor, two journalists who were subjected to violence.
He said that while torture could not be condoned, the issue of Shehbaz Gill was subjudice and the Islamabad High Court had sent back the remand case to the lower court.
When it was a subjudice issue there was no justification for making such a statement in public, Justice Minallah said referring to Imran Khan’s remarks that warranted contempt proceedings against him.
Judges and courts are open to criticism but there is a distinction between a fair trial and a subjudice case, he said.
‘Court did not want a repeat of October 12’
Referring to the events of April this year, Justice Minallah said that Imran Khan exercised his right when he asked why the court was opened at midnight.
“We did not respond on that issue. Courts do not come up with replies,” he said.
“Today, when it is relevant, we must tell you why the court opened at midnight. The court had on its mind that another October 12 should not be repeated,” the justice said in a reference to Musharraf’s coup against Nawaz Sharif on October 12, 1999.
He said that no one could influence any judge of “this court.”
This court wants to ensure civilian supremacy as no political leader is trying to do so, the justice said.
The justice said that it was not possible to influence the court by amassing people outside the court premises. “If anyone gathers a hundred thousand people here, we won’t be moved,” he said.
He said that the court never cared what people were saying and that social media was polluted by the political leadership.
The IHC chief justice said that the response submitted by Hamid Khan on his client’s behalf was not worthy of Imran Khan.
The court told Hamid Khan to submit a fresh reply or else the court was to continue with its proceedings.
Justice Minallah also told Hamid Khan to study the cases of Daniyal Azia, Talal Chaudhry and Nehal Hashmi — PML-N leaders who faced contempt of court cases in the past.
The court is bound to follow the precedents set in these cases, the chief justice said adding that Hamid Khan must prepare his reply after careful consideration.
Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb said that the contempt case could have ended today had Khan submitted a more appropriate reponse.
After the kind of response was submitted, the proceedings will move ahead as the court is bound to follow the law, he said.
“The chief justice sahib has given you another chance to submit the reply. Think about it,” he said.
Reservations about amicus curiae
During the hearing, Hamid Khan expressed reservations when the court said the Pakistan Bar Council could be appointed amicus curiae.
Hamid Khan requested that Munir A Malik be appointed amicus curiae instead.
The court appointed the Pakistan Bar Council, Munir A Malik, and Makhdoom Ali Khan as amici curiae.
Justice Minallah also addressed the attorney general saying while the PTI government introduced a controversial amendment to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) the current government was also filing treason and sedition cases against its opponents.
After giving Imran Khan a week to submit a fresh reply, the court postponed the hearing for September 8.
The court issued a written order declaring that the show-cause notice against Imran Khan was not being withdrawn.
The court said that the in the reply submitted by Imran Khan, “it has been prayed that the said notice be discharged. It was pleaded that a supplementary reply would be filed. … We are not inclined to discharge the said notice having found the reply to be unsatisfactory bearing in mind inter-alia, the law laid in the cases reported as “Suo Motu Contempt Proceedings” [PLD 2018 SC 773], “Suo Motu Contempt Proceedings” [PLD 2018 SC 738] and “The State v Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan [2020 PLD 109 Islamabad].”
The court has ordered the case to be relisted at 2:30pm on September 8.
Tough security and exchange of words
Before the judges and Imran Khan arrived at the court, a bomb disposal squad swept the courtroom to ensure foolproof security.
When officials told PTI leaders already gathered there to leave the courtroom, Babar Awan refused to do so. This led to an altercation.
Imran Khan’s counsel Hamid Khan was stopped outside the courtroom.
SAMAA TV’s Sohail Rasheed reported that security was constantly being beefed up as the time for the hearing drew closer.
The Islamabad Police deployed around 1,100 personnel apart from installing several barricades inside the court premises, between the entry gate and the door of courtroom No 1. where Imran is due to appear before the bench.
The court had initiated suo moto proceedings after the former prime minister issued threats to Additional Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry and other officials earlier this month.
A smaller bench referred the matter to the chief justice Islamabad High Court, requesting him to form a larger bench.
Authorities started to put in place special security arrangements inside and outside the court, with limited numbers of passes being issued to lawyers and journalists.
Several streets were closed and people asked to use alternative routes, SAMAA TV’s Adil Tanoli reported.
A police spokesperson said that court staff with passes will be allowed limited movement.
Imran urges judges to recuse themselves
The smaller bench that initiated the suo moto proceedings had served a show-cause notice on Khan.
On Tuesday, the former prime minister submitted a reply to the court, urging the original judges to recuse themselves from the bench.
Imran Khan has also offered to take back his words about Judge Zeba Chaudhry if the court deemed them to be inappropriate.
However, the PTI chief stopped short of offering an unconditional apology.
In a related case, Imran Khan filed a petition before the Islamabad High Court to get the terrorism charges against him quashed. An FIR was registered under anti-terrorism law on a magistrate’s complaint against Khan immediately after he threatened Judge Zeba and others at a PTI rally in Islamabad’s F-9 park.
Justice Minallah, on Wednesday, heard the petition and issued notices to police officials.
Fawad warns of reaction
In the past, contempt of court charges have led to the disqualification of prime ministers. Imran Khan, too, risks the same.
PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry has recently warned of ‘public reaction’ if the court ruled against Imran.
In an interview with anchorperson Mahar Bukhari, Fawad said that Khan had been restraining his supporters so far but if the court disqualified him people will decide.
Chauhdry said that Imran Khan is a popular leader with millions of supporters.
He also claimed that when courts ruled against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto his popularity had declined but Imran enjoyed rising popularity.