Imran Khan arrives to appear before the court in Islamabad on Thursday. AFP
Tariq Butt, Correspondent
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday decided to indict Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sept.22 in contempt of court proceedings against him for passing controversial remarks against Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry, calling his response "unsatisfactory.â€
The unanimous verdict was issued by a five-member bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar. It stated that charges against the former prime minister will be framed after two weeks.
The IHC had initiated contempt proceedings against Imran over his diatribe against Judge Zeba Chaudhry, who had approved Imranâ€™s chief of staff Shahbaz Gillâ€™s physical remand in a sedition case, at a public rally in Islamabadâ€™s F-9 Park on Aug.20.
On Wednesday, the former premier had submitted a second reply to the court after the first was termed "unsatisfactory.â€
IHC Chief Justice Athar observed that Imranâ€™s replies to the courtâ€™s show-cause notice appeared to be "justifyingâ€ contempt of the judiciary and showed "no remorse or regret.â€
Imranâ€™s counsel, Hamid Khan, said there was a difference between giving a justification and a clarification. "I am giving a clarification here.â€ "Would you have submitted the same reply if these words were used for a Supreme Court or a high court judge?â€ Justice Athar asked.
He highlighted that Imran was giving the justification that Gill was tortured while in police custody. "Tell us will the decisions be taken in rallies or the courts,â€ Justice Athar inquired.
For his part, Imranâ€™s lawyer said that all judges were deserving of respect. Subsequently, Justice Athar said that the judges of district courts were more important than those of the high court or Supreme Court.
"Often times, the matter is not as serious as it is understood to be,â€ Hamid contended, admitting that Imran didnâ€™t use the word "actionâ€ in his diatribe against the female judge in the correct way.
Justice Sattar asked Imranâ€™s counsel if legal action under the Contempt of Court Act could be publicly commented on.
Hamid replied that every citizen had the right to initiate legal proceedings, adding that the word action didnâ€™t necessarily mean to threaten. "We assure the court that no one was threatened,â€ he maintained.
Justice Sattar also observed that the words used by Imran were "threateningâ€.
However, Imranâ€™s lawyer argued that his client had stated multiple times that he was never against the judiciary. "He ran a campaign for the freedom of the judiciary,â€ Hamid Khan pointed out.
He clarified that the PTI chairmanâ€™s aim was not to use harsh words against the female judge. However, Justice Sattar said that Imran was still trying to justify what he had said.
"There is a difference between a justification and a clarification. This is what I am trying to tell you,â€ Hamid Khan contended.
Imran Khan is also due in an Anti-Terrorism Court on Friday when his bail is due to expire in a separate case . AFP
To this, Justice Sattar asked: "Does Imran Khan want a fair trial? Is this why he has submitted this response?â€
Imran Khanâ€™s lawyer replied that his client wanted the contempt case to be wrapped up.
Justice Minallah observed that the former prime minister was taking a very "riskyâ€ stance. "The apex court had also warned Imran Khan of contempt,â€ he recalled. "You are now once again saying that you wonâ€™t do this in the future.â€
Justice Minallah reiterated that even now Imran wanted to justify his remarks, adding that the case of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nehal Hashmi was similar to the one at hand. "Hashmi had not taken the name of any judge.â€
Justice Minallah asked why the judges of the lower courts were considered different from those of higher courts. "You are justifying contempt of court which means that you have no remorse or regret,â€ the judge observed.
Justice Sattar also noted that Imran had not shown any remorse through his behaviour. "Even after the speech and the contempt of court case, justifications are being given,â€ he said.
Justice Sattar asked if the PTI would threaten "actionâ€ against the five judges hearing the case if he was not happy with their decision.
"Are you trying to say that what Imran said was right and that the world has perceived it to be wrong?â€ the judge asked.
Hamid Khan also said that hurling a threat at the female judge was not Imranâ€™s objective. "Imran has always stood up for the rights of women.â€
Justice Minallah said the case was not about womenâ€™s rights but was about the judge of a lower court.
He remarked that he didnâ€™t care if the courts or judges were sidelined. "But here, the matter is of criminal contempt on which notice is taken across the world. We will too,â€ Justice Minallah said, saying that this contempt could affect the peopleâ€™s trust in the judiciary.
The judge recalled that Imran had called on his supporters to gather outside the court. "We have repeatedly told you to submit a well-thought out response.â€
Imran Khanâ€™s counsel said that his client had used the word regret in his response on the courtâ€™s orders, once again asking the IHC to dismiss the case.
"We can assure the court that Imran Khan will be more careful in the future,â€ he said, concluding his arguments.
Hamid Khan pointed out that a revised reply was submitted to the court on Wednesday. He said that the new reply was submitted after taking the courtâ€™s directives at the last hearing into consideration.
The lawyer said that two apex court judgements had also been attached with the reply. "We want this case to be wrapped up now,â€ he said.
He also referred to the case of firebrand PML-N leader Daniyal Aziz, who was convicted by the Supreme Court in 2018 for contempt.
"At the previous hearing, the IHC had instructed us to review contempt cases in the SC,â€ he said, adding that the court had also referred to the cases of Aziz and Talal Chaudhry. However, Imran Khanâ€™s case is different from the other two cases, Hamid Khan said.
Justice Minallah remarked that there were three types of contempt of court charges: judicial, civil and criminal. "Those cases do not fall under criminal contempt as they talked about the role of the court,â€ he said, adding that Imran had commented on a matter that was sub-judice.