April 19, 2023
ISLAMABAD – The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday barred the Punjab police from “harassing” PTI Chairman Imran Khan, instructing them to ensure that the former premier was treated as per the law.
The orders were issued by a five-member bench as it took up Imran’s petition seeking to restrain authorities in Punjab from launching a police operation at his Zaman Park residence or arresting him on the basis of an “undisclosed” first information report (FIR) when the courts get closed.
The plea, filed by Barrister Salman Safdar and Advocate Azhar Siddique, was heard by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, Justice Aalia Neelum, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, Justice Anwaarul Haq Pannun and Justice Muhammad Amjad Rafiq.
Ahead of the proceedings, Imran arrived at the court. Videos showed the PTI chief surrounded by a number of guards who had covered his face with bulletproof shields.
At the outset of the hearing today, Imran’s lawyer Salman Safdar told the court that cases were being lodged against his client one after the other.
“80 cases have been registered against Imran Khan in Punjab only,” he said. “Courts can look into the ill-use of authority by police and we want the bench to do the same in this matter too.”
At that, Justice Najafi said that he had expressed displeasure over the situation outside Zaman Park earlier as well.
The judge was referring to the three-day-long police action outside Imran’s residence last month. The operation had resulted in violent clashes between officials and PTI supporters, leaving dozens injured.
During the hearing today, the PTI chief’s lawyer said that his client had received credible information regarding another operation outside Zaman Park during the Eid holidays.
“Give us relief for five days,” he requested, saying that “for five days the doors of the court will be closed”.
“The doors of justice are never closed,” Justice Najafi replied.
For his part, the Punjab government’s lawyer, Ghulam Sarwar, asked the PTI chairman to present evidence supporting his claim in court.
“The law is equal for everyone … this petition has been filed merely on the basis of concerns,” he said, pointing out that there was nothing on record regarding an operation.
Sarwar went on to say that the law would take its course if a criminal act was done.
“Can you give a statement that no action will be taken in old cases [registered against Imran?” Justice Sheikh asked, to which the lawyer replied that action in cases in which legal proceedings were underway would continue.
“Let’s ask the same question from you in another way … will you let them [Imran] celebrate Eid at home?” Justice Najafi inquired.
Sarwar replied that a joint investigation team had been formed to probe cases against Imran and it could not be stopped from working.
Here, Justice Neelum said: “You cannot even touch the petitioner if he is on bail … we are not asking you to stop any legal proceedings.”
The lawyer then assured the court that legal proceedings could not be resumed in cases in which bail had been granted, adding that the police would only act as per the law.
“We are saying the same that nothing against the law should be done,” Justice Neelum stressed.
Meanwhile, Justice Rafiq said that as per the law investigation in a case could be halted if there was no fear regarding the suspect absconding. “This authority only lies with the investigation officer,” the lawyer replied.
At one point during the hearing, the PTI chief came to the rostrum. He said that he hadn’t broken a single law in his life yet hundreds of cases had been registered against him.
“Khan sahab, we have heard these things before … say something new,” Justice Najafi said.
PTI chief then stated that the Punjab police had attacked his house even after Justice Sheikh of the LHC had stopped them. “From what their lawyer is saying, it is confirmed that they [the Punjab government] will attack Zaman Park again.
“Sir, has this ever happened before? My house was attacked for 26 hours,” Imran recalled.
However, Justice Najafi remarked that “we don’t think an operation will take place in the [upcoming] five to six days”.
“Whatever happens, if it does, will be as per the law,” the Punjab government’s lawyer said here, to which Justice Neelam said that such statements increased the concerns of the petitioner.
The court then reserved its verdict on Imran’s and later stopped the police from “harassing” Imran. The proceedings have been adjourned till May 2.
The plea nominated the Federation of Pakistan, the Punjab police chief, the provincial chief secretary and others as respondents in the case.
In his petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the PTI chief said that the “malice and ulterior motives of the Punjab police were evident from the fact that more than 140 cases” had been registered against him. “Hence, the grave misuse of Section 154 CrPC 1898, is apparent alone from the registration of numerous FIRs.”
It stated that the series of complaints registered against the complainant demonstrated the “hidden agenda of undue harassment and political victimisation”.
“Multiple registrations of FIRs’ shows malafide and high-handedness of state functionaries who are acting as handy tools upon the whims and wishes of the government in power,” the plea said, elaborating that the senior leadership of the PTI had been subjected to “physical torture, unlawful arrests and undue harassment” by the law enforcement agencies.
It highlighted that recently the spokesperson of the government had passed statements on social and print media that showed the “mischievous agenda of political victimisation”.
Imran said in his plea that the “highly objectionable” behaviour of the Federal Investigation Agency, National Accountability Bureau and Punjab police was influenced by political adversaries and stressed that such “abuse of authority” required the interference of the court.
“The petitioner has already expressed serious concerns about the clear and present danger to his life and the unfortunate withdrawal of security to which he is otherwise entitled being the former prime minister of Pakistan.
“The former prime minister cannot be ‘experimentally killed’ in order to realise the gravity of threat perception more so while undergoing criminal trials registered with malafide and bad faith of police authorities,” the petition said.
It went on to say that “justice delayed is justice denied” and requested the petition be instantly fixed before a bench for hearing.
“In light of the aforementioned facts and circumstances, it is most respectfully prayed that a strict order be issued to retrain the respondents from launching a police operation or affecting a straightaway arrest in any undisclosed FIR during the time courts are closed,” the plea added.
IHC extends Imran’s bail in 8 cases till May 3
Separately, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has extended Imran’s interim bail in eight cases pertaining to violence outside the Federal Judicial Complex till May 3.
Cases were registered against Imran at Golra, Bara Kahu, Ramna, Khanna, and CTD police stations after the police accused the PTI chief and party workers of being involved in attacking police and creating unrest outside the FJC in Islamabad during the hearing of the Toshakhana case on March 18.
A two-member IHC division bench, comprising IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, accepted the PTI chairman’s request for a bail extension and exemption from appearing before the court today.
During the hearing, CJ Farooq made it clear that Imran’s interim bail in all the cases will be cancelled if he did not appear in court on May 3.
PTI lawyer Faisal Chaudhry, the additional attorney general, and the advocate general appeared in court today.
As the hearing commenced, Imran’s lawyer informed the court that his client had appeared in the LHC today. “He cannot appear in this court due to security reasons,” Chaudhry said.
IHC CJ Farooq asked if all eight cases before the court were filed against Imran. “Do the cases include provisions of terrorism?” he asked.
Imran’s lawyer replied that these eight cases pertained to the judicial complex issue. “We have requested to appear through a video link,” Chaudhry said.
At that, Justice Farooq replied that modern techniques should be used but in accordance with the law.
“This court has not given any extraordinary relief to Imran Khan so that a wrong precedent is not set,” the judge added. “Now tell me a date to fix. Don’t embarrass yourself and this court.”
The IHC chief justice further warned Imran’s counsel not to do anything that would force the court to issue any order. “Imran Khan is a former prime minister,” he said, stressing that this fact should be kept in mind.
Subsequently, the hearing was adjourned till May 3.