Additional District and Sessions (ADSJ) Judge Zafar Iqbal said on Thursday that he would stop the Islamabad police from arresting PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the Toshakhana case if the ex-premier surrendered in court.
The judge passed these remarks while hearing the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) reference seeking criminal proceedings against Imran for concealing details of Toshakhana gifts.
The sessions court was set to indict Imran in the reference on Feb 28, but his lawyer had requested the judge that he be exempted from the hearing because he had to appear in several other courts. His indictment was deferred multiple times before.
The judge had subsequently issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Imran and instructed the police to present him in court by March 7. The PTI chief managed to dodge the arrest and later approached the Islamabad High Court (IHC) for the cancellation of the warrants.
The IHC, while granting some relief to Imran, had told him to appear in the sessions court by March 13, but the former prime minister once again skipped the hearing. Resultantly, ADSJ Iqbal had on Monday re-issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Imran and directed the police to bring him to court by March 18.
However, when the police reached Imran’s Zaman Park residence in Lahore to arrest him on Tuesday, they were met with resistance, leading to two-day pitched battles between PTI supporters and law enforcement agencies. The clashes ultimately subsided after the courts intervened on Wednesday.
That same day, the PTI also challenged the latest arrest warrants issued for Imran in the IHC. It rejected the plea and directed the PTI chief to submit an undertaking to the trial court which states he would attend the hearing on March 18.
On Thursday morning, the court of ADSJ Iqbal resumed hearing the case. Imran’s lawyers Khawaja Haris Ahmed and Babar Awan were present on his behalf.
As the proceedings commenced, the judge remarked that the court had not yet received the high court’s directives as per judicial procedures.
“Do you think a notice should be issued to the ECP regarding the case being maintainable,” ADSJ Iqbal asked. “This matter can be resolved in a second … where is Imran Khan?
“When has Imran appeared in court in person? What is the concept of an undertaking,” he inquired.
At that, Haris asked if it was necessary to arrest his client to bring him to court.
“We want Imran to come to court. Why is he not coming? What is the reason? Imran Khan has to assist the police according to the law, not resist them,” the judge remarked, adding that had the warrants been bailable, there would have been no issue.
“But the warrants are non-bailable.”
Here, Haris read the IHC’s order out loud in court. However, the judge stated that the arguments presented by the counsel were for bailable warrants.
“There already is a surety in the case,” ADSJ Iqbal pointed out. “In its verdict, the IHC has also said that the court order should not be affected by any illegal actions.”
Meanwhile, Haris argued that a surety had already been submitted in the court and his client was ready to give an undertaking as well. “Do you want to remain strict and uphold Imran’s non-bailable arrest warrants?”
The judge stated that the warrants were issued for Imran’s appearance in the case to which the lawyer stated that Imran wanted to come to court.
“Imran is not asking for an exemption, he wants to come to court,” Haris said. “But, at this moment, are non-bailable warrants necessary for an arrest?” he asked.
The lawyer contended that the court had two options. “The first is that you accept the undertaking and cancel the non-bailable arrest warrants and the second is that you take a surety and issue bailable arrest warrants,” he proposed.
Haris also clarified that Imran wanted to give an undertaking that he would appear in court on March 18.
Here, ADSJ Iqbal remarked that the arrest warrant — issued for Imran — had become the most expensive warrant in the world. “Millions of rupees have been spent [to execute] this warrant.
“What happened shouldn’t have taken place,” the judge asserted.
Haris agreed with ADSJ Iqbal and then urged the court to cancel Imran’s warrants. He also requested that the ECP lawyer be issued notices and called for arguments.
But the judge asked: “Why is the situation bad outside Zaman Park right now?”
Imran’s lawyer replied that the government was carrying out a political vendetta through arrests. “In more than three incidents, there have been instances of torture and case have been registered against people.”
Here, ADSJ Iqbal said that he would stop the Islamabad police from the arrest if Imran surrendered in court. “Legally, Imran should have been directly brought to court… it wouldn’t have been possible to harass him during the court appearance.”
“Section 91 has been violated but the arrest warrants were issued under Section 93,” he added.
The judge also said Pakistan was a poor country and there was no need to spend millions of rupees on the warrants. “If a date is mentioned on the warrant, it doesn’t mean that action should be taken that day only … it means that the person be arrested and presented in court whenever possible.
The police cannot sit outside doing nothing, he added.
ADSJ Iqbal further asked why Imran resisted the warrants that were legally issued. “This is the money of the public. You could have held a peaceful protest.”
In criminal proceedings, he went on to say, arrest warrants were usually issued and then cancelled after the suspect appeared in court.
At one point, Imran’s lawyers presented his undertaking in court and requested that the non-bailable arrest warrants for him be forthwith cancelled.
However, the judge issued notices to the secretariat police and ECP and summoned them to court. The hearing was subsequently adjourned till 12pm.
The reference, which alleges that Imran had not shared details of the gifts he retained from the Toshaskhana (during his time as the prime minister) and proceeds from their reported sales, was filed by lawmakers from the ruling coalition last year. On October 21, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had concluded that the former premier had indeed made “false statements and incorrect declarations” regarding the gifts.
The Toshakhana is a department under the Cabinet Division that stores gifts given to rulers and government officials by heads of other governments and foreign dignitaries. According to Toshakhana rules, gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division.
The watchdog’s order had said Imran stood disqualified under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution.
Subsequently, the ECP had approached the Islamabad sessions court with a copy of the reference, seeking proceedings against Imran under criminal law for allegedly misleading officials about the gifts he received from foreign dignitaries during his tenure as the prime minister.