ISLAMABAD: An anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Islamabad turned down the request for an extension in interim bail of former prime minister Imran Khan in a case registered following a protest last year outside the offices of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on its decision in the foreign gifts case.
In October of last year, Khan was barred from holding public office after the election tribunal found him guilty of “unlawfully” selling gifts from foreign dignitaries and heads of state, sparking countrywide protests.
The verdict on Wednesday was announced by Judge Raja Jawad Abbas Hassan due to Khan’s non-appearance in court.
Earlier in the day, he had given an order for him to appear in court at 1:30 pm, just 10 minutes after the announcement. Khan is currently in Lahore, recovering from a gunshot wound sustained during a rally in November of last year.
The judge, in a short order, said that despite various opportunities provided to Khan, he did not present himself before the court on several occasions, including the two scheduled for Wednesday.
The court cited the protracted nature of the instant bail application and ruled the matter cannot be stretched indefinitely, and therefore no further opportunity seeking dispensation from personal attendance shall be allowed.
It added that the former prime minister’s failure to appear in person is “sine qua non” or absolutely necessary, and that he must appear before the court on the date when the final order is fixed.
Consequently, the court dismissed his pre-arrest bail petition for non-appearance, and he is now required to face the charges against him.
During today’s hearing, Khan’s lawyer Babar Awan highlighted that the additional sessions judge had granted interim bail to the PTI chief till February 27.
Awan requested the court to extend the bail, adding that Khan had tried to come but could not travel to his injured leg. “Imran Khan neither tried running away from the country nor the court,” said Babar Awan.
When Judge Rakhshanda Shaheen arrived at the court, she directed the officials to vacate the room as there were a lot of people present there. The judge then ordered a break so the courtroom could be emptied.
When the hearing resumed, Khan’s lawyer Barrister Salman Safdar started his arguments on the extension of the PTI chief’s interim bail for three weeks.
The lawyer told the judge that his client was over 70 years old but was fit as he exercised regularly. He added that it takes three months for a young person to recover in case of a bullet injury.
Safdar also shared that his client was also exempt from appearance for biometric verification due to his age. He then urged the court to grant the former prime minister exemption from appearance in the case for three weeks.
The lawyer also shared the x-rays of the PTI chief.
“We are only asking for three weeks so he can stand without support. If our plea is not heard then it must be written that our medical [assessment] is not correct,” said Safdar. He also added that the court must also write that the PTI chief was not hit with bullets.
The lawyer, before wrapping up his arguments, also informed the court that his client was not present in Islamabad at the moment.
Once Khan’s lawyer wrapped up his arguments, co-accused Tariq Shafi’s lawyer Mian Ali Ashfaq came to the rostrum.
Ashfaq contended that a criminal case cannot be filed in the prohibited funding case.
“Even if the first information report (FIR) is admitted there will be no conviction,” claimed Ashfaq. He also asked if there was any statement or document which pointed out that the funds were prohibited. He argued that a mosque is not bound to ask its donors about their source of income.
The counsel added that even if Arif Naqvi committed a crime then how can the party that collected the funds be declared criminal?
“It is alleged that the crime was committed by Arif Naqvi abroad. Arif Naqvi has been sentenced there, so what are we doing here?” asked the lawyer. He also claimed that the Federal Investigation Agency was hiding facts.
Shafi’s lawyer asked how his client, Imran Khan and Amir Kayani were at fault if Naqvi defaulted abroad.
At this point, Judge Shaheen intervened and told the lawyer that he was giving incorrect arguments as the case was only related to bail.
“I am not giving any observation, this is only a case of bail,” said the judge.
After the arguments of the counsels of the PTI chief and co-accused were wrapped up, special prosecutor Raja Rizwan Abbasi presented his arguments.
Abbasi said that it was contended in court that no one is questioned if they give funds to a mosque. “It only happens in Pakistan and not in the United Arab Emirates.”
After all the lawyers had spoken, the judge ordered Khan to appear in court by today.
“If Imran Khan does not appear then the law will take its course,” warned Judge Shaheen.
Separately, earlier in the day, a banking court in the capital also ordered Khan to appear in person before the judge by 3:30 pm in the funding case against his party.
The case against Khan dates back to 2014 when Akbar Babar, a disgruntled member of the opposition party filed a case against him with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), accusing him of receiving funds from foreign countries and companies.
Under the law, political parties are not allowed to accept such donations.
Last year, the commission ruled that the party received millions of dollars in “illegal funds” from countries, including the United States, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United Kingdom, and Australia.
The decision could lead to a ban on Khan and his party.