The unanimous verdict of a five-member Islamabad High Court (IHC) bench to indict Imran Khan after calling his response for passing controversial remarks against Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry “unsatisfactory” leaves the PTI chairman and his legal team in utter disbelief and flabbergasted.
Though the supplementary reply was soft as compared to the first one, the judges’ remarks towards the contemnor (Imran Khan) were harsh as compared to the previous hearing.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah even termed Imran’s statement towards the lady judge “incitement”. He said that perhaps contempt against him is more serious than the Nehal Hashmi case wherein the latter was convicted and sentenced to jail for one month.
The IHC chief justice made it clear that “district judiciary is our red line”.
It was witnessed that the bench was very clear and touchy as far as the district judiciary was concerned. In view of the today’s hearing, the PTI needs to revise its strategy of putting pressure on judges through the social media to get relief.
The bench seems to make it a test case wherein a message will be delivered that lower judiciary judges deserve equal respect as the superior courts’ judges.
Imran, who remained present in the courtroom during the three hours proceedings, was visibly upset over the remarks made by the judges and wanted to explain the matter himself.
When the IHC CJ and Justice Babar Sattar were raising queries, Imran asked his counsel Shoaib Shaheen several times to request the bench to hear him personally. At the end of the proceedings, he even stood up from his chair and requested the bench to hear him personally, but the bench did not entertain his request.
Imran was not accompanied with any of the party leader as they were not allowed to enter the IHC premises. Imran in his informal chat with journalists in the courtroom wondered over high security around the IHC premises and said that it seemed Indian Agent Kulbhushan Jadhav was coming to stand the trial.
His nephew, Hassan Niazi, who is a lawyer, was sitting on his right side. His counsel, Shoaib Shaheen, who is the incumbent Islamabad High Court Bar Association president, was sitting on his left.
Former additional attorney general Tariq Khokhar, while taking to The Express Tribune, said Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was allowed by the Supreme Court in 1978 to address the court in person (after his counsels had argued) for three days before he was hanged in 1979. “It was allowed at the worst Martial Law in our history but the IHC did not allow Imran to utter even a single sentence.”
"In my view, today’s order may not help enhance the judiciary’s dignity or its public legitimacy. Time will tell if it was in the public interest.”
“My fear is that extra constitutionalists will be emboldened to further dilute our teetering democracy. We have a toxic judicial legacy: judicial forbearance may have been a proper corollary," Khokhar said.
One member of the PTI chief’s legal team admitted that the IHC proceeding was very surprising for them. Explaining the rationale for not tendering an unconditional apology, one of the legal eagles of the PTI said the decision had been taken on the grounds that tending an unconditional apology would have meant that the party was throwing itself at the mercy of the court.
He said that presently, the “system” was against Imran, therefore, there was an apprehension that in case of tendering an unconditional apology, some elements may go to the extent of getting him disqualified from running for a public office if found guilty of contempt.
Many lawyers, however, disagreed with the view, saying Imran should have trust in the court led by Justice Athar Minallah who is known for his fiercely independent judgements without being influenced by the powers that be.
Another lawyer, who witnessed the proceedings, said it seemed that the bench was pre-determined to reject fresh explanation and give a date for framing of the charge. Therefore, the bench ignored amicus arguments to conditionally discharge the show cause notice against Imran. However, their formulations were not recorded in the written order.
Senior lawyers say that Imran has opportunity to approach the Supreme Court against the IHC order. They, however, urge him that instead of approaching the top court, he should appear before the lady judge and express remorse over his statement against her.
“If Imran shows the gesture, then the IHC will definitely discharge the show cause notice without framing the charge,” says a lawyer.
Similarly, lawyers believe that the Islamabad High Court is much more conscious about its image and it will never convict one of the most popular leader of the country in contempt. “Imran Khan should have complete trust in the bench.”
They say at a time when the relations between the establishment and Imran Khan are tense, his conviction will prove to be a big stigma for the court that always prides itself in upholding civilian supremacy.
There is another legal view as the IHC is seen trying to uphold the dignity of the district judiciary, the Supreme Court would avoid giving relief to the PTI chief over the issue.
However, Makhdoom Ali Khan, who appeared in the court as amicus curie, stated that the formation of a five-justice larger bench to initiate contempt case against the leader of a major political party “is enough to show that how important dignity of the district judiciary is.”
Senior lawyers say the top court initiated contempt proceedings against political leaders over their statements against the Supreme Court judges; however, in this case, the IHC’s focus was to uphold the dignity of judges of the district judiciary.
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