The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday expressed dissatisfaction with former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s written response
to a contempt of court notice and ordered him to submit a second reply in seven days.
A five-member larger bench, headed by Chief Justice Athar Minallah and comprising Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Justice Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar, heard the case. Imran personally appeared before the court.
عمران خان بنی گالہ سے اسلام آباد ہائیکورٹ میں پیشی کیلئے روانہ۔ pic.twitter.com/uN36Bg5CUi— PTI (@PTIofficial) August 31, 2022
During the proceedings, the court expressed its dissatisfaction with the written reply filed by the PTI chief. The court also turned down the request for discharging the notice. “We are not inclined to discharge the said notice having found the reply to be unsatisfactory…” the court said in its order.
Earlier in August, the IHC issued show-cause notice to the PTI chairman over a contempt of court case after his remarks against Additional Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry and asked him to appear personally before the bench on August 31.
The notice followed Imran’s speech at a rally in Islamabad’s F-9 Park in which he alleged that the additional sessions judge knew that incarcerated party leader Shahbaz Gill was tortured but she did not release him on bail. Imran had threatened to take action against the judge and the Islamabad police chief.
On Wednesday, Imran’s lawyer Hamid Khan read out the written reply. Expressing his dissatisfaction with the reply, the chief justice remarked that the court had taken up “sensitive matters”, including “torture” and “enforced disappearances”.
Speaking about the seriousness of contempt against the court, he emphasised that the judges responsible for upholding justice in serious matters “were opened to criticism”, particularly when Imran “questioned why the court was opened at midnight”.
Justice Minnallah was alluding to the PTI chief’s criticism of the IHC being opened at midnight during the vote of no-confidence tabled against him in the National Assembly in April this year. “It has been open to everyone since 2018,” the chief justice said.
The chief justice remarked that he was personally hurt by the written statement submitted by the former prime minister. “You must understand the seriousness of the matter and answer thoughtfully or else the court will proceed with the matter.”
He further said that the case also involved the matter of freedom of expression. The chief justice referred to the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) Amendment Ordinance, which was introduced by the then PTI government in February 2022 but was struck down by the IHC in April. “If the PECA Ordinance brought by you had not been repealed, the majority would have been inside the jails,” he said.
Defending the written response, Imran’s lawyer Hamid Khan said that the former prime minister had no intention to make malicious remarks against the judicial officer. He added that his client became emotional after seeing the torture on his chief of staff, Shahbaz Gill.
The chief justice said that torture could not be allowed at any level. “Is there any torture greater than missing a person?” he asked. He pointed out that when the speech was delivered by Imran Khan, the case regarding the torture was pending in the court.
The chief justice said that the judges of the district judiciary were as important as those of the Supreme Court. Judges of the subordinate courts are “not Mr X or Y” and must not be regarded by anyone as per their sweet will, he added.
“Change will come in this country when all institutions do their work in accordance with the Constitution,” Chief Justice Minallah remarked, adding that a political party should believe in the rule of law and the Constitution.
He said that Imran Khan had a large fan following, therefore, a leader like him should pay attention to every word he spoke. “I expected him to realise that a mistake had been made. Just as the time that has passed does not come back, so the words that come out of the mouth do not go back,” he said.
During the hearing, Islamabad Advocate General Jahangir Jadoon wanted to address the court. However, the judge stopped him, saying that this was the matter between the alleged contemnor of the court and the judiciary.
Hamid told the court that political parties did not ban their followers and added that the court never cared who said what. Chief Justice Minallah said that the political leadership had spoiled the social media, and if a political leader advised his followers to desist, they would desist from saying things.
The lawyer admitted that the court might have been upset with the written statement submitted in response to the notice but stressed that the reply mostly covered legal points. The chief justice told the lawyer that it was an open court and it would not allow contempt proceedings to be misused.
Hamid Khan said that Imran Khan had no intention of speaking against the judicial officer. The chief justice told him to see the record and submit a proper reply, otherwise, the court would take the matter forward. He added that the court would make the contempt proceedings very transparent.
Justice Miangul Hasan said that the contempt of court proceeding could have ended today, but because of this response, it did not. The judge further said that the respondent had been given another chance to file the reply, adding that the written statement must be thoughtfully submitted this time.
Later, the court said in its written order: “The learned counsel for the respondent sought further time to file a supplementary reply to the show cause notice as pleaded in the provisional reply. For this purpose, he has sought a period of one week. Let the supplementary reply be filed within seven days.”
The court appointed Munir A Malik, Makhdoom Ali Khan and a representative of the Pakistan Bar Council as judicial assistants and adjourned the hearing till September 8. “With the consent of the parties we hereby appoint Pakistan Bar Council, Mr Munir A Malik, Senior ASC and Mr Makhdoom Ali Khan, Senior ASC, as Amici Curiae in the case to assist us,” the order said.
Strict security in place
As Imran entered the court premises, journalists enquired if he would apologise for his remarks. “I have submitted my response to the court,” Imran said in a terse reply. “I wonder why there is so much fear,” he added before PTI Vice President Shah Mehmood Qureshi prevented journalists from further questions.
چیئرمین عمران خان اسلام آباد ہائیکورٹ پہنچ گئے۔— PTI (@PTIofficial) August 31, 2022
Police sources confirmed that a bomb disposal squad was tasked with clearing the courtroom, while all attendants were ordered to empty the premises before Imran’s arrival. Only lawyers on the cause list were allowed to enter the high court after security checks. The court was secured with barbed wires.