ISLAMABAD: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry on Sunday said the government will explore legal options against a court order that paved the way for National Assembly Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif to travel abroad.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday permitted Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief to travel to the United Kingdom between May 8 and July 3 for a medical check-up in a ruling that drew criticism from the government. He had petitioned the court, saying he is a cancer survivor who now needs treatment abroad
Angered, Chaudhry described the ruling as a “joke” that he said could help Sharif “escape the law as his brother did” in 2019.
In a press conference along with Special Advisor to Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Shahzad Akbar, Chaudhry reiterated the government has no personal vendetta against the Sharif family.
“We are only fighting against the organised corruption committed in [the last] 20 years during the reign of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP),” he said.
Allowing Sharif [accused in mega graft cases] to go abroad and detaining ordinary people on minor offences will destroy the very fabric of our judicial system, the minister said.
The government, he said, believes the law should be equal for everyone and Sharif should also face cases in the courts instead of seeking opportunities, on one pretext or the other, to escape from the law.
He also wondered how the government could trust his guarantee to return to the country when he had not been able to fulfil the same assurance for his brother and deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
“The question is how can his guarantee [to return] be accepted when he couldn’t fulfil another absconder’s [Nawaz] guarantee,” he questioned.
“When he was giving Nawaz’s guarantee, we had the hope at the time that NAB and the court would call him and ask that he had given a guarantee for Nawaz and had to come back with him so where has he [Nawaz] gone?”
The minister observed the opposition had the same stance and pointed to the call by PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari for Nawaz’s return during a conversation with PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz. “The opposition itself thinks that Nawaz is a fugitive.”
Chaudhry said the manner in which permission was granted to Sharif to go abroad was a reflection of the “rot in the [judicial] system”. He also questioned the speed with which Sharif’s application for bail was heard and decided on.
The minister said giving permission to Sharif to go abroad would mean “setting aside the rights of thousands of prisoners”. “We forget them, acknowledge the class system and allow Shehbaz to go abroad while the rest of the prisoners don’t have the right to even get treatment outside of jail.”
Sharif faces corruption charges in three separate court cases. He was released on bail last month on a court order, about seven months after he was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for involvement in money laundering and being in possession of assets disproportionate to declared income.
Nawaz, convicted of corruption, lives in self-exile in London. He was released from prison in 2019 on bail to seek medical treatment abroad but never returned home.
The government last December started the process to reach an extradition treaty with Britain that would pave the way for the UK to hand over the PML-N supreme leader.
Speaking on the occasion, Akbar said the government will file an appeal against the bail orders as the court “was not properly assisted” in the case.
All court orders like this, he said, “are challenged in court and there is a process to it”.
He said the Supreme Court had deliberated on the Provisional National Identification List (PNIL) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) existed for it.
“Because issues have been raised regarding it and some clarifications are [needed], the government will appeal this order on those basis and after that, it will be seen what the next step will be.”