An Islamabad District and Sessions Court on Thursday rejected Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s plea seeking suspension of a non-bailable arrest warrant issued for him in the Toshakhana reference over continuous non-appearance for proceedings.
In its ruling, the court said: “Keeping in view post order development of issuance of non-bailable warrant of arrest and act and conduct of the applicant, the warrant may not be cancelled just on the basis of his undertaking.”
The PTI had approached the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday seeking suspension of the warrant, arguing that Khan was willing to provide an undertaking stating that he would attend the next hearing on March 18 (Saturday). However, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq refused to suspend the warrant as it was in accordance with law, and directed the party to submit its undertaking to the trial court, noting it would then determine if it wished to accept it or maintain the warrant until it had been executed.
Presiding over today’s hearing, Additional District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal was requested by Khan’s counsel to either suspend the issued warrant or issue a bailable arrest warrant instead. Noting that he had yet to receive the IHC ruling, the judge said the issue could nonetheless be resolved within seconds if Khan appeared in court today.
“Has Imran Khan presented himself before the court?” he asked, with lawyer Khawaja Haris asking if it was necessary for the former prime minister to appear before the court in person. “We want Imran Khan to appear before the court. Why isn’t he presenting himself before us? What’s the reason behind it?” the judge asked, noting that Khan should assist the police and not resist them in line with the law.
“Imran Khan created a scene by resisting,” he said, noting the IHC order had specifically said his court’s order should not be affected by “illegal actions.” He said Haris’ arguments for the suspension of the warrant were related to bailable arrest warrants and not non-bailable ones as in this instance. The lawyer, meanwhile, reiterated claims that Khan wished to appear before the court and was not seeking any exemptions, adding that the PTI chief wanted to give an undertaking to the court that he would appear before it on March 18.
The judge also asked Khan’s counsel why the situation in Zaman Park had gotten so “bad,” lamenting that this warrant had now become “not only the most expensive in Pakistan but the world.” He said the government had spent millions of rupees to execute this warrant. To this, Khan’s counsel said that whatever had happened at Zaman Park should not have happened, with the judge responding that Khan should have just come to court. “It is not possible that Imran Khan is harassed when he appears before the court. We are a poor country and it is not feasible to spend millions of rupees on a warrant,” he said, adding that if the PTI chief surrendered himself to authorities, he could cancel the warrant. “The warrants were issued in line with the law, then why did [police] face resistance? It is the nation’s money. The most you could have done was to hold a peaceful protest,” he added. “The police can’t sit idle when arrest warrants are issued for March 18,” he said.
The judge noted that as a party to the case, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should have a say in this. With the PTI lawyer’s assent, the electoral body was issued a notice and the hearing adjourned till 12 p.m.
When the hearing resumed, the ECP lawyer sought time till 2:30 p.m. to appear. At this, Khan’s lawyer once again sought a suspension of the warrant and acceptance of the PTI chief’s undertaking. In response, Judge Iqbal said that the court’s decision was valid and in line with the law. He reiterated that if Khan had presented himself before the court, the situation might’ve been different but his absence has complicated matters. “The court wants to completely cooperate with Imran Khan and it does not wish for any harm to him, however, there were laws to be followed,” he said, noting the IHC’s decision had said issuing the arrest warrants was legally justified.
“Imran Khan will, not once, but present himself multiple times before the court. Imran Khan will appear before the court on March 18 as well,” said the lawyer, at which point the hearing was again adjourned until the ECP’s lawyer appeared.
Upon the resumption of the hearing, Islamabad Inspector General of Police Akbar Nasir Khan said police representatives were not allowed to meet the former prime minister. Rebutting the PTI’s claims, he said “no one” from the party leadership had met the Islamabad police, who had “petrol bombs” thrown at them. “Police personnel, who were at Zaman Park to implement court orders, were tortured,” he said, adding the personnel were not carrying any weapons. He asked the court what explanation should be provided to families of law enforcers who had been injured. “In the past, it was not unusual for the police to arrest someone from their house and present them before the court. If one person is given exemptions, then others should be given the same as well,” he said.
The judge then asked the IG how much damage had been incurred to state property to which he said 65 policemen were injured and the police’s water cannon was set on fire. The ECP’s lawyer, meanwhile, termed Khan’s request for suspension of his warrants as “ridiculous,” adding it could not happen until the suspect presented himself before the court. He demanded the court keep the warrants intact.