The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday suspended the non-bailable arrest warrants issued against PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the Toshakhana reference till March 13.
The court announced the reserved verdict shortly after 6pm. The court also directed the PTI chief to appear before the district and sessions court on March 13.
The 70-year-old ex-premier, who has been recovering from a gunshot injury from an assassination attempt in Wazirabad last year, has thrice skipped indictment hearings in an Islamabad sessions court in the case.
He is accused of concealing, in his assets declarations, details of the gifts he retained from the Toshakhana — a repository where presents handed to government officials from foreign officials are kept.
The sessions court was set to indict Imran in the Toshakhana 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 twice before.
The judge had then issued arrest warrants for Imran and adjourned the hearing till March 7.
On March 5, an Islamabad police team was sent to Lahore to arrest Imran with the court summons. However, it returned empty-handed after the PTI chief evaded the arrest.
Subsequently, Imran had approached the sessions court for the cancellation of the arrest warrants, arguing that the withdrawal of the summons would enable him “a fair opportunity to appear and defend himself” in the case.
However, the sessions judge rejected his request on March 6 and upheld the warrant, ruling that the PTI chairman “wilfully avoided” appearing before the court.
In a petition filed in the IHC today, Imran prayed that the sessions court’s Feb 28 and March 6 orders be set aside so that he could have a “fair opportunity” to appear in court and defend himself.
At the outset of the hearing, Imran’s lawyers — Ali Bukhari and Qaiser Imam — urged the court to cancel the PTI chief’s arrest warrants.
However, the court remarked that the warrants were not issued for arrests but to frame charges against Imran in the Toshakhana case.
“You appear in court for the framing of charges and then request for an exemption,” Justice Farooq said. “The law is the same for everyone. What can the court do?
“The court has to adopt a legal procedure,” he stressed, saying that Imran had to appear in the sessions court today but he did not.
“You tell, when will he appear?” the judge asked. “Imran Khan has to appear before me as well. He can come on March 9 and appear before the sessions court too.”
At one point during the hearing, the IHC CJ also said that Imran would get “nothing on merit” on the petition. “What can I do? Just give me a date as to when Imran will appear in court.”
Here, the PTI lawyer said that Imran had severe security threats to which the judge replied that everyone was getting threats these days.
“The Islamabad IG has told me that there are security threats to all the judges. He told me to take security. But how will I take security for myself by putting the public at risk?
“Should I shut down the court? We have prepared a security plan for both the high court and the sessions court. You people yourself create security threats,” he said, pointing out that what happened outside the IHC at the previous hearing — on Feb 28 — was in front of everyone.
“What will happen when you bring 2,000 people along with you to court? How did Benazir Bhutto die?” Justice Farooq asked.
He inquired if the PTI lawyers were ready to give an undertaking that Imran wanted to appear before the court. “You are still not ready to appear in court. Be fair with the system, don’t make a joke of it,” Justice Farooq asserted.
At that, Islamabad Advocate General Jahangir Khan Jadoon said: “Here, they are talking about security threats while Imran is preparing for an elections rally.”
However, the judge interjected that he did not want to talk about anything political.
For his part, Bukhari said that several other cases had already been registered against the PTI chairman. “Imran Khan has been kept inside his house. He can’t go out.”
Here, the judge said that it was not possible to give the former premier relief in a case that had not yet been registered.
Subsequently, the court gave the PTI chief’s lawyers 30 minutes to consult with Imran and decide when he will appear before the court.
When the hearing resumed, Imran’s lawyer sought a time of four weeks for Imran’s court appearance.
However, Justice Farooq said that four weeks couldn’t be given. “If you say so, we can tell the sessions court to commence proceedings to declare him an absconder.
“In four weeks, you won’t get a new F-8 Katcheri, it will stay the same,” he said.
At that, Imam requested the judge to grant his client as much time as it is possible.
The court then called AG Jadoon to the rostrum.
“Imran Khan can appear in the courts on March 9. We don’t have a problem. He can appear in the sessions court early morning and come to the IHC by 3pm,” he said.
Here, Imran’s lawyers argued that they had reservations regarding the security to which Justice Farooq said the sessions court would assure the provision of proper security.
“We are not worried about ours but the security of the public,” the judge remarked, saying that the lives of common people were as important as his.
He added that life and death were in God’s hands. “If we die, we die.”
The court then reserved its verdict.
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.