The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday gave PTI chairman Imran Khan another chance to submit a “well-considered” response in the contempt proceedings initiated against him for his controversial remarks about district and sessions judge Zeba Chaudhry, who had approved his chief of staff, Shahbaz Gill’s physical remand in a sedition case.
The former prime minister was summoned by the court in his personal capacity at the last hearing, when the IHC had also issued a show-cause notice to him.
A five-member bench, comprising IHC Chief Justice (CJ) Athar Minallah, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar, heard the case today.
Prior to the hearing, Islamabad police said a “special security plan” had been devised for the court ahead of the hearing.
“Only individuals with permission from the IHC will be allowed on the court’s premises and alternative routes have been arranged for residents of the area,” a tweet by the capital police said on Tuesday.
Before the hearing commenced, PTI leader Babar Awan and his son were asked to leave the courtroom as their names were not presented in the list of approved attendees, the Dawn.com correspondent at the IHC said.
When the proceedings began, the IHC CJ referred to a reply submitted by Imran to the court a day ago, in which the former premier offered to take back his controversial remarks, and said he was not expecting the “reply that was read out”.
Addressing Imran’s lawyer, he added, “Hamid Khan, you are not just Imran Khan’s counsel but also an aide to the court.
“It was expected that you would have visited a subordinate court before coming here.”
Justice Minallah remarked that he was saddened by Imran’s reply and the subordinate court referred to therein was “the court of the common man”.
“The common man still doesn’t have access to the Supreme Court or the high court,” he added.
Continuing, the IHC CJ commented: “Time that has passed and words that have been said cannot be taken back.”
He said he was expecting that Imran would admit to making a mistake in his reply. “I was expecting that you would go to the courts and say that you trust them (the courts),” adding that Imran’s detailed response disappointed him.
Justice Minallah went on to say that questions were raised about a lower court. He asserted that the issue of torture had been raised by the IHC for the past three years.
“Torture cannot be allowed at any level,” Justice Minallah said. “Is there a greater [form of] torture than making a person disappear?”
At one point, the IHC CJ remarked that the PTI chief did not seem to realise the gravity of what he had said.
During the hearing, the IHC CJ asked whose administrative control Adiala Jail was under. “Do jail authorities admit the accused without a medical check-up even when there is suspicion of torture,” he questioned.
The chief justice also asked when Gill’s petition in the IHC was disposed of and the day Imran delivered his speech.
The advocate general replied that petition was disposed of on Aug 22, while the PTI rally was held on Aug 20.
“So the matter was still pending in the IHC when the speech was delivered,” Justice Minallah observed.
He went on that under the PECA Ordinance, bails were not granted for as long as six months in cases pertaining to the criticism of institutions. “But when the court declared this [law] null and void, a campaign was run against us.”
But the court never cared about it, the IHC chief justice continued.
He also referred to the IHC opening at midnight of April 9 — the day Imran lost the no-confidence vote — saying that it was a “clear message” that the events of October 12, 1999 — the day former president General Pervez Musharraf imposed martial law — would not be repeated.
“Imran Khan asked why the court opened at midnight. This court is open round the clock for any weak [person] or a constitutional matter,” the judge asserted, adding that the PTI chief had expressed his complaint in a “very good” manner and should have addressed the female judge in the same way.
He said that a political leader had a high stature and every moment was important for them.
Furthermore, Justice Minallah stated that no one could influence a judge.
“Social media has been ruined by politicians,” he said. “But the court never cared about what was being said. They made me the owner of a flat. I had put up a picture with an SC judge and they turned me into a political worker.”
The judge admitted that “our institution has committed several mistakes” and welcomed criticism over it. “But when photos of judges are posted on social media and accusations are levelled against them, none of the political parties stop their supporters from doing so.”
Going on, Justice Minallah said that the reply submitted by Imran did not befit someone of the politician’s stature and reiterated that the PTI chief had failed to realise the gravity of his actions.
Here, Imran’s counsel Hamid Khan requested the court for another opportunity to elaborate on the reply, adding that his client did not have any intention of passing remarks against a judicial officer.
Subsequently, the court granted the former prime minister’s lawyers another chance to submit a “well-considered” response in court, urging them to understand the severity of the matter.
It advised the lawyers to go through the SC’s ruling in contempt cases, stressing that implementation on the apex court’s verdicts was compulsory.
The chief justice promised that he won’t let the contempt of court be “misused”, adding that change would only come to the country when all the institutions performed their jobs in line with the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Justice Aurangzeb said that the proceedings could have been disposed today but were not because of Imran’s response. “You have been given one more chance. Think on it,” he said.
The hearing has been adjourned till September 8.
The decision to initiate contempt proceedings against Imran was taken by Justice Aamer Farooq while hearing a petition challenging Gill’s police remand.
Subsequently, the IHC had constituted a three-member bench, headed by Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and also comprising Justice Babar Sattar and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, to commence the proceedings.
At the last hearing on August 23, the court had observed that it would be appropriate to constitute an even larger bench to hear the case “to determine how public interest in freedom of speech is to upheld and balanced”.
“For this purpose, orders shall be solicited from the Hon’ble Chief Justice,” the court order issued by the initial three-member stated.
The court had also summoned Imran in his personal capacity and issued a show-cause notice to him.
Imran ready to ‘take back words’
The PTI chief submitted his reply to the IHC yesterday, wherein he expressed his willingness to “take back” his words about judge Chaudhry if they were “regarded as inappropriate” and pleaded before the IHC that the judges who had agreed to initiate the case against him should consider withdrawing themselves from the bench as, according to him, they had pre-judged the matter.
In his reply, submitted through counsels Hamid Khan and Barrister Salman Safdar, he urged the IHC to discharge the show-cause notice issued to him and dispose of the contempt matter.
He further asked the court to examine the contents of his speech in the context of his intention, which was “bona fide”.
The reply explained that Imran was under a misconception that judge Chaudhry was an executive magistrate carrying out executive or administrative functions on the federal government’s orders.
The government was “bent upon torturing and violating” the fundamental rights of Gill, the PTI chief said, adding: “It was under this misconception that she was referred to as magistrate.”
The PTI chief maintained he did not mean to threaten the judicial officer or to say anything which brought the administration of law into disrepute.
The reply contended that no contempt was committed by the respondent and that the deputy registrar picked words selectively from his Aug 20 speech.
“These words were taken totally out of context and splashed all over the print and electronic media to give an impression as if the respondent (Imran) intended to take the law into his hands.”
The PTI chief alleged that the contempt proceedings were initiated on the basis of clippings from newspapers that were against him.