PTI chairman Imran Khan was still on the way to the Lahore High Court (LHC) after leaving his Zaman Park residence as the 5pm deadline given to appear before the court lapsed.
Earlier today, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh instructed the former prime minister to appear in court in person while hearing his protective bail petition in a case pertaining to protests outside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
Justice Sheikh passed these directives after Imran failed to meet the court’s order to appear in person by 2pm today.
On Feb 15, an Islamabad anti-terrorism court — on grounds of non-appearance — had rejected Imran’s request for an extension in his interim bail in a case pertaining to violent protests outside the ECP after it disqualified him in the Toshakhana case.
The PTI chief has been convalescing in his Zaman Park residence in Lahore ever since he was wounded in an assassination attempt during a pitstop his caravan made in Wazirabad while they were marching on Islamabad.
Subsequently, the PTI chief had approached the LHC for interim protective bail.
At the previous hearing, Justice Sheikh had warned of issuing a contempt notice to Imran pointing out that there was a difference in the PTI chief’s signatures on the affidavit — attached with the affidavit — and the power of attorney. The court also instructed him to appear in the court in person by 2pm on Feb 20.
The court had also advised Punjab Inspector General Dr Usman Anwar to meet the PTI chief’s legal team and decide on security matters.
Ahead of today’s hearing, a large contingent of police personnel was deployed at the main gate of the LHC.
Imran’s legal team also arrived at the court to review the security arrangements. Meanwhile, PTI supporters have started gathering outside LHC.
As the proceedings commenced today, Justice Sheikh inquired about the whereabouts of the PTI chief’s lawyer. “The case was fixed for 2pm,” he pointed out.
Advocate Intizar Panjhota replied that Imran’s lawyer was on the way. “He maybe be stuck in traffic and will soon arrive,” he said, after which the judge adjourned the hearing for a while.
When the ex-premier’s lawyer, Khawaja Tariq Rahim, appeared in court, he said that his client had reached out to the Punjab inspector-general. “We were told that traffic on the Mall Road would be empty at the time of today’s hearing.
“We were also told to reach out to the registrar for security inside the court,” he said. “But the registrar rejected our request for entrance from the Mosque Gate.”
Moreover, Rahim contended that the Regal Road was jammed pack today. “Imran Khan has himself said in the media that he will go to court. But the situation is such that there are security concerns.”
He went on to say that if his client got the Mall Road “free”, Imran could appear before the court tomorrow (Tuesday).
At this, Justice Sheikh said: “The law is the same for everyone. He [Imran] should come from where every common man comes.”
The judge then instructed the Rahim to begin his arguments on the petition. Here, the lawyer said that Imran wanted to withdraw the bail petition.
“Present your arguments on the difference in the signatures,” the judge interjected.
Imran’s lawyer admitted that there was a difference in the signatures on the affidavit and the power of attorney. “Imran Khan has not filed the protective bail,” he said.
“Imran Khan can even submit this in writing to the court,” he added.
At this, the court remarked that it can issue a contempt notice to Imran and the PTI chief can submit his response on it within three weeks.
However, the ex-premier’s lawyer argued that contempt of court was not applicable on the matter.
“You’re making a joke out of the law,” the judge said here. “The way I have accommodated you … this [normally] doesn’t happen. Imran is a leader [and] a role model. He should remain a role model.”
The ex-premier’s lawyer then sought time till 5pm, promising that Imran would appear before the court by then. Justice Sheikh accepted the request and said that this was the “last chance”.
In a tweet after the hearing, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said that Imran will reach the LHC by 4-4:15pm.
“This attendance, which is against the recommendations of both medical and security officials, is only for the respect of the judiciary,” he stated.
Imran’s request for entrance into LHC via Mosque Gate rejected
Earlier today, the court rejected the PTI chairman’s request, submitted via Senator Shibli Faraz, to enter the LHC premises through the Mosque or Judges Gate.
The application, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, had stated that the petitioner was the former prime minister of Pakistan and was recently injured in an assassination attempt.
“The petitioner’s bullet injuries are still under healing process and he has not been allowed by doctors to walk or put pressure on the broken tibia,” it said.
It added that there was a “huge amount of risk and threat” to Imran’s life as the perpetrators and masterminds of the previous attack were still at large and “giving threats time and again”.
“It is hereby prayed that the petitioner, being the former prime minister, may kindly be allowed to enter the court premises through its Mosque Gate/Judges Gate due to medical reasons,” the petition pleaded.
Health issues, not a ‘matter of ego’: Asad Umar
Separately, in a media talk late today, PTI leader Asad Umar said that there were some “security requisites” regarding Imran’s appearance in court.
“Imran is not an ordinary Pakistani citizen [as] he’s the only leader among the few former prime ministers on whom an assassination attempt has been made,” he told reporters.
The PTI general secretary went on to say Imran could not “bear any shoving and pushing as per instructions from his doctors”, adding that it was “not a matter of ego”.
Umar added that the PTI chief’s bone, which was hit by a bullet, had not “healed completely yet” and that doctors had cautioned the recovery process could be hindered by “even a slight shake”.
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The terrorism case in Islamabad was filed against Imran in Oct 2022 after PTI workers took to the streets and held demonstrations outside ECP offices across the country after it disqualified the former prime minister in the Toshakhana reference.
Soon after the verdict was announced, the PTI leadership asked people to take to the streets. Clashes were also reported between the police and protesters in Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi.
The ATC had granted Imran a pre-arrest bail in the case in October last year and summoned him on multiple occasions but the ex-premier failed to appear in court. His lawyer had been seeking an exemption from in-person appearance on medical grounds.
Previously, Imran also petitioned the court for a virtual hearing but the request was rejected.