ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan Friday got blanket relief from the Islamabad High Court as the authorities have been barred from arresting the deposed prime minister in any case till Monday morning (May 15).
In the first relief today, a two-member special divisional bench granted two-week bail to the former prime minister in the Al-Qadir Trust corruption case, and later, the court barred authorities from arresting him till May 17 in any new case filed against him till May 9 — the day he was detained in the corruption case, which led to deadly countrywide protests.
Then, he sought transitory bail in four cases lodged against him in Lahore, in which the court awarded him bail till May 22 in the Zille Shah murder case, then, another bench barred authorities from arresting the former prime minister till the morning of May 15 while hearing the bail petition filed against three terrorism cases.
Opposed to a wheelchair in which he would appear before courts earlier, a beaming Khan, sporting a stylish pair of sunglasses, arrived at IHC in tight security like a celebrity, wearing a crisp light-blue shalwar kameez and a dark blue waistcoat, as hundreds of police and paramilitary troops guarded the premises of the judicial structure in the federal capital.
A day earlier, contrary to the IHC — which termed PTI chief’s arrest “legal” — a three-member bench of the Supreme Court deemed Khan’s arrest from the premises of the high court “illegal”, directing him to appear before the IHC today.
“The manner of execution of the arrest warrant issued by the Chairman, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) dated 01.05.2023 in the Al-Qadir Trust case within the premises of the Islamabad High Court against the petitioner is invalid and unlawful,” the ruling said.
Khan was arrested from the IHC premises by paramilitary forces on Tuesday (May 9), which triggered violent protests across the country. The former prime minister had immediately approached the court for release but it had declared his arrest legal.
Since being ousted from office last April, Khan has waged a tempestuous campaign for snap elections and fired unprecedented criticism at the coalition government and military who he blames for pulling him from power.
He has accused senior military and government officials of plotting a November assassination attempt that saw him shot in the leg during a rally.
A two-member bench — headed by Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and comprising Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir — while hearing the petition seeking transitory bail in three terrorism cases directed Khan’s lawyer to assist the court only in the cases related to him.
The lawyer then pleaded to the court to grant his client protection in all the cases filed against him since May 9.
“Government machinery is being misused,” the lawyer said.
In response, the judge presiding over the hearing said the incumbent government had a case registered against former interior minister Sheikh Rashid — a resident of Rawalpindi — in North Waziristan’s Baka Khel.
However, he also noted that the PTI government had registered similar cases against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Javed Latif and others.
Then, the court granted bail to Khan and issued orders that he should not be arrested in the “cases that he has no knowleged of” till Monday morning.
Zille Shah murder case
A single-member bench headed by Justice Jahangiri heard the bail petition in the Zille Shah murder case, and after the hearing started, it was adjourned for a brief period.
Once, the hearing began, Khan’s lawyer Salman Safdar said cases were lodged against his client in Lahore after he was arrested on May 9.
He appealed to the court to grant his client transitory bail for approaching the relevant court.
After hearing the arguments, Justice Jahangiri granted bail to the PTI chief till May 22.
Al-Qadir Trust case
A two-member special division bench, comprising Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb and Justice Saman Rafat Imtiaz heard the bail plea in the Al-Qadir Trust case.
At the outset of the hearing — which began after an hour-long delay — the two-member bench expressed its displeasure after lawyers chanted slogans in favour of the former prime minister.
During the first session, Khan — in response to a reporter’s question on whether he was allowed to use a phone during his arrest or not — said: “NAB officials allowed me to talk to my wife via landline.”
The reporter then cross-questioned why Khan contacted Musarrat Cheema when he was given the phone to talk to his wife.
At this Khan clarified that he could not contact his wife.
A reporter further asked whether he had expected to be arrested, to which Khan replied: “I was 100% certain that I would be arrested.”
Following this, the courtroom erupted into slogans in favour of the PTI chief. The courtroom staff tried to stop the chanting; however, they failed to do so. At this, Justice Aurangzeb said that this was “unacceptable”.
Subsequently, the hearing was briefly adjourned for a break for Friday prayers.
Once the hearing resumed, Khan’s lawyer Khawaja Haris presented the PTI chief’s pre-arrest and protective bail applications.
“We have asked for a copy of the inquiry report in another application,” he said, adding that NAB should be ordered to provide a copy of the inquiry report.
Haris said that they had found out about the anti-graft watchdog’s inquiry report from the newspaper, adding that arrest warrants can be issued only if an inquiry turns into an investigation.
“The reason mentioned in the arrest warrants stated that Khan did not appear before NAB despite repeated notices; however, as soon as the investigation started, an attempt was made to arrest him,” he said.
However, the lawyer informed the court that the inquiry had been converted into an investigation in April and that replies to two call-up notices had been submitted.
He then pointed out the legal flaws of the call-up notices and asked: “It is important to state in what capacity the concerned person has been called — as a witness or as an accused.”
In response to a question by Justice Aurangzeb, Haris said he had not visited the NAB office because the call-up notice was “illegal”.
He then concluded his arguments, saying that he had raised objections in a detailed reply, subsequent to which no further notice was received.
After that Islamabad Advocate General Barrister Jahangir Jadoon presented his arguments to the court.
The advocate general defended the government’s decision to bring in the army citing the rising violence in the province, following Khan’s arrest.
He also added that there was no solid reason to bring this matter to the high court in the writ petition. At this Justice Aurangzeb said: “Has martial law been imposed here that we stop hearing all applications?”
Addressing the claims made by Khan’s lawyers, the NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi then revealed that the inquiry had started in July after which a call-up notice was issued.
Khan never appeared for the inquiry, he said, adding that notices had also been served to a business tycoon, Zulfi Bukhari, and others.
“Mian Muhammad Soomro, Faisal Vawda, and others who joined the inquiry were also served notices,” he claimed.
After hearing the arguments of both sides, the two-member special division announced its verdict of granting bail to Khan for two weeks.
In an informal discussion with journalists during the hearing break, Khan said that he would not resist if his bail plea was rejected.
Contacting his legal team amid fears of arrest, Khan — referring to the clashes — warned that a similar reaction would be seen if he was arrested again.
“I don’t want such a situation to arise again as this is my country and my army,” he said, revealing that the Punjab Police had arrived to arrest him.
The PTI chief did not respond to a question about his experience of being arrested; however, in response to a question regarding claims that he was given “extraordinary relief” compared to other political leaders, Khan said: “Relief in this! I was sitting in the high court, they had no justification to arrest me.”
Terming his arrest an “abduction”, he said that the warrant was shown to him after he was taken to the jail. “This is the law of the jungle,” the PTI chief asserted.
“Where did the police and the law go? It looks like martial law has been declared here,” he said.
Later on, he told journalists that a similar situation would take place if he were arrested again. “If I’m not out there, then who will stop the people [from protesting]?”
‘Lawyers who chanted slogans are not a part of PTI’
Speaking to media persons during the hearing break, Khan’s lawyer Babar Awan clarified that the lawyers who started chanting slogans were not related to PTI.”
He then asked: “Why would someone who wants elections, create trouble in the country?”
Awan further expressed concerns about another arrest of the PTI chairman and said: “The Punjab police has especially been called to Islamabad. Why does the government want to arrest Imran Khan?”
The lawyer added that if the Punjab police arrested Khan again, it would be “unconstitutional”.
Did Khan meet establishment during imprisonment?
Ahead of his hearing, a Geo News reporter asked Khan if he had met with the establishment during his imprisonment.
He was then asked: “Are you adamant or have you made a deal?” This time too, the PTI chief did not answer, instead he smiled, prompting the reporter to ask if Khan’s silence was a sign that he had made a deal.
Once more, Khan did not respond verbally and instead put his finger on his mouth, signalling to be quiet.
Ahead of today’s hearing, hundreds of police and paramilitary troops were deployed around the high court and the surrounding area, which was blocked for traffic.
PTI lawyers were present at the rear gate of the IHC, while Rangers personnel stood outside the court’s building and Islamabad Police were deployed inside the premises.
According to Geo News, PTI lawyers had urged the court staff to change the room as Court Room Number 3 — designated for the hearing — was “too small” for the hearing. The request was later accepted and the hearing shifted to Court Room 2.
Earlier today, Islamabad police issued an emergency order banning all gatherings in the capital city after PTI called for supporters to come together.
What is Al-Qadir Trust case?
The former prime minister, along with his wife Bushra Bibi and other PTI leaders, is facing a NAB inquiry related to a settlement between the PTI government and a property tycoon, which reportedly caused a loss of 190 million pounds to the national exchequer.
As per the charges, Khan and other accused allegedly adjusted Rs50 billion — 190 million pounds at the time — sent by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) to the government.
They are also accused of getting undue benefit in the form of over 458 kanals of land at Mouza Bakrala, Sohawa, to establish Al-Qadir University.