In an outburst of rage last week Imran Khan had bitterly railed against the role of the judiciary and the poll supervisory body in the May 11 elections, calling it ‘shameful’. On Friday, however, he said his criticism was directed at returning officers, and not the judiciary as a whole.
“The press statement [that triggered the contempt of court controversy] was made in good faith on July 26 wherein the reference to the judiciary was for the returning officers (ROs) and district returning officers (DROs) belonging to the subordinate judiciary assigned to the election process,” Imran said in a written statement submitted to a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court.
The bench – headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry – was hearing a contempt of court notice against Imran. The two other judges on the bench were Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed.
Imran Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), didn’t fare as well as it would have liked to in the May 11 elections, despite emerging as the third largest in parliament. The party alleged that the elections were massively rigged in some constituencies and that the ROs and DROs were complacent.
In his written reply, Imran said he held the Supreme Court in high esteem and that he had high expectations from the court for redress of his party’s grievances related to the elections.
Unimpressed by the reply, Justice Chaudhry expressed his dismay over Imran’s choice of words for criticising the judiciary. “The use of the word ‘shameful’ for the judiciary is tantamount to abusing the court,” he remarked.
The chief justice also shot down the criticism of the ROs, saying that it was the PTI that had demanded the involvement of the district judiciary in the election process.
But Hamid Khan, the counsel for Imran, insisted that his client had “genuine grievances against the ECP staff and the ROs, because the results were different from what were expected in different constituencies.”
Defending Imran’s outburst, Hamid said the press statement in question was made by a politician based on his political perceptions and apprehensions.
The bench didn’t buy the argument. If the PTI had any grievances, it had all legal and constitutional remedies available, observed Justice Khawaja. The PTI chief should have not condemned the judiciary on the basis of perceptions, without submitting evidence of rigging.
“You should not have criticised the judiciary or called its role ‘shameful’. Today you have lost [the election], but tomorrow you may win an election held under the same judicial officers,” added the chief justice.
Justice Chaudhry also enquired Hamid if his party favoured holding the upcoming local bodies’ elections under the supervision of the executive.
On his part, Justice Khawaja observed that the bench was concerned about the respect of the judiciary as an institution and not for the ego of some judges. The derogatory remarks were not used by a commoner ignorant of the law, he added.
Adjourning the hearing till August 28, the bench asked Hamid to submit a comprehensive response at the next date of the hearing.
Earlier, Imran addressed the bench directly and reminded the judges of his struggle for an independent judiciary. However, the bench stopped him from arguing his case, saying that he had a lawyer to plead for him.
In courtroom No 1, Imran was flanked by PTI leaders Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, Jahangir Tareen and Ghulam Sarwar Khan, apart from dozens of his supporters.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2013.