ISLAMABAD: When the accountability court judge, Muhammad Bashir resumed proceedings on Friday morning, most expected him to announce the verdict in an hour or so and be done with the case he had been hearing for the past 10 months. But, it turned out to be a day of nerve-racking suspense and delays for the reporters gathered in and outside the courtroom.
He started off the day by hearing an application filed by the lawyers of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz requesting the court to delay the verdict for a week. After hearing brief arguments over the application, which was opposed by the NAB prosecution team, the judge said he would announce the decision at 11am. But, he came back in the courtroom at around 10:55am and announced his decision to dismiss the deferment-seeking plea.
Not only the majority of reporters, but also the defence counsel was not present in the courtroom when the decision was announced. The judge asked those present to inform the defence that their application had been dismissed.
At the same time, it was announced that the decision in the Avenfield reference against Nawaz, Maryam and Capt (retd) Safdar would be announced at 12:30pm. However, the verdict was first delayed till 2:30 and then further by half an hour. At 3pm, the judge himself explained that the verdict’s pages were being photocopied and it would take another half an hour for it to be made public. Shortly afterwards, all those present, including the lawyers and the reporters, were told to leave the courtroom.
Updates about all these delays and reasons behind them were being passed out to the media though a window of a washroom inside the court complex, which was left slightly ajar.
A few reporters, who were allowed to attend the hearing, would peak through the window and tell their colleagues outside the court that the verdict was once again being delayed, or that the judge had once again retired to his chamber, or that the verdict was getting ‘final touches’.
It was that washroom window through which most of headlines on national TV channels were coming out from.
Shortly before 4pm and a while after all reporters and lawyers had been told to leave the courtroom, the two teams of lawyers were invited back in and the reporters were told to wait outside with assurances that they would be allowed back in when the judgment would be announced. The reporters at that time also questioned them being removed from the courtroom. “Nawaz in, media out,” quipped a journalist.
Despite being present in his chambers throughout the day, Judge Muhammad Bashir was somewhat aware that his every instruction and movement was making headlines and creating a mild storm in the national politics if not more. However, while explaining the logistical issues behind the delay every time, he requested reporters not to air that the judgment was being delayed once again.
The reporters waited for around half an hour outside the courtroom believing the judge and the lawyers from the two sides were deciding TORs of the judgment-announcement and they would be called back in when it is time. However, shortly after 4pm, the court staff announced the title of the case and only a few reporters, who were around, could make it to the courtroom to listen to a brief judgment in which the judge mainly confirmed conviction of the accused and read out sentences awarded to them.
The final judgment too reached the media, and the TV screen throughout the country and beyond, through the same window of the court washroom, which was left slightly ajar.