ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday issued non-bailable arrest warrants for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif during a hearing over the PML-N supremos's petition to seek exemption from court appearance.
In a brief ruling, IHC's Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani remarked that the PML-N supremo neither underwent a surgery despite citing it as a reason behind obtaining bail to travel to the United Kingdom nor was he admitted to a hospital.
"Our bail order has expired, which has its own effects," the judge said during a hearing at the IHC over a petition to cancel Nawaz's bail in the Avenfield properties reference.
The non-bailable arrest warrants were issued in order to ensure the PML-N leader's appearance at an upcoming hearing on September 22.
'No one is absconding'
During the hearing, the court asked how was it supposed to hear the National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) appeal. "Do we announce a ruling on this without hearing the other side," the court remarked.
To which, NAB Additional Prosecutor General Jahanzeb Khan Bharwana said the court could appoint a legal counsel to represent Nawaz.
"Then this principle will also apply to the appeals filed by Nawaz Sharif," the court shot back at Bharwana, who said the PML-N supremo was absconding, not him, and that he was present before the judge.
"I'm sorry but no one is absconding in front of the court right now," Nawaz's Sharif's defence counsel Khawaja Haris responded to the NAB prosecutor-general.
Haris' arguments and a 'similar' case
In his arguments, Haris said Nawaz's case was "similar" to that of former president Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf. The PML-N leader "also spent time in jail after his conviction and filed an appeal", he said.
To which, Justice Kayani remarked that in the case referred, "the accused had escaped from jail".
"It was a more serious crime wherein the absconder's appeal was decided on merit," Harris said.
"Where the NAB law is silent, the criminal code applies," the court responded.
"I want to tell the court that Nawaz Sharif cannot appear in court at the moment," Harris said.
"Is whatever you referred to acceptable here," the IHC asked. "We are here to hear a criminal case in which you seek an exemption."
Haris said he was not seeking an exemption in the Al-Azizia case.
"But isn't that what's written in your petition," the court asked.
Haris said: "In Musharraf's case, the question was if an absconder could appoint his own lawyer. The question was whether Musharraf, while being an absconder, could file a petition. Here, our application was filed earlier and the lawyer is also present first.
"In one certain case, the Supreme Court heard Musharraf despite him being an absconder," he added. To which, the court asked: "So now could you please describe the extraordinary circumstances that you think apply in this case?
Nawaz's medical certificates 'not from a hospital'
"Do you want hearings on the appeals to be adjourned or to be heard in the absence of Nawaz Sharif?"
"Yes, this is my request to the court," Haris said.
"Even if we declare Nawaz Sharif an absconder, the appeal will still be heard," the IHC replied. However, "the court has not yet declared Nawaz Sharif an absconder", it added, reserving the decision on the former PM's petition to the court to review its order for him to surrender.
Haris said Nawaz was in London and not in a position to return to Pakistan and that "doctors have advised Nawaz Sharif against traveling".
"Nawaz Sharif made it clear in his petition that he wanted to return to Pakistan," his counsel said. "If doctors allow Nawaz Sharif to travel, he will return on the first flight.
Noting that the PML-N supremo's team had provided his medical certificates already, Haris said the NAB and the federal government had not provided any comment denying them.
"According to medical certificates, Nawaz Sharif is not fit to return home," he said. "If these unfit certificates are undeniable, then how can an order be issued against Nawaz?"
To which, Justice Kayani said the medical certificates "are the opinion of a consultant and not from a hospital".
"The permission to travel abroad was not sought from this court," the judge said, referring to the IHC. "The bail was for a specified period and, perhaps, this was not conveyed to the Lahore High Court."
Haris said cases against the former premier were being heard in Lahore as well. "The court asked us to approach the government of Punjab for an extension in the bail in the Al-Azizia case," he said.
To which, IHC Justice Aamer Farooq said: "The only question before us is that the bail granted earlier has expired so what should we do now?"
Relief to absconders 'will affect justice system'
On the other hand, in his arguments, Bharwana, the NAB's lawyer, said Nawaz had been ordered by the court to surrender.
"Petitions filed by Nawaz Sharif are inadmissible," he said.
"Nawaz Sharif's bail in Azizia reference has expired," the court remarked. "It is an accepted fact that Nawaz Sharif did not appear before the court," it added.
"The court has the power to reject the absconder's appeal or appoint a legal counsel for him," Bharwana added. "Giving relief to absconders will affect the justice system. The court already gave him an opportunity to surrender."
Nawaz's 'life in danger'
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said there is no doubt that the IHC has given priority to legal criteria, but he was also disappointed.
"Nawaz Sharif has always respected the courts and he always will," he said, adding that it was the former premier's right to get treated.
Abbasi said that doctors' reports show that Nawaz's life is in danger and that his treatment had been delayed due to coronavirus.
The PML-N stalwart, referring to former judge Arshad Malik's confession, said that "if the government was able to get Nawaz indicted through blackmailing, then how can a common man expect justice".
Meanwhile, PML-N's Khawaja Asif lamented that government representatives were ridiculing Nawaz's illness.
"We respect the law and courts […] We accept the court's decision," he said.
Asif said that as soon as Nawaz recovers and doctors approve travel, he would come back to the country and face the law.
"The verdict issued today is not in our favour, but we respect it," he said.
"He left his wife and came back to the country with his daughter […] you will not find such an example anywhere, where a man leaves his ailing wife and returns to the country," he said.
Moreover, PML-N secretary-general Ahsan Iqbal said while the party might have reservations against the verdict, they respect it nonetheless.
Iqbal demanded Punjab health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid resign if the government feels Nawaz's reports were forged, as she had approved them.
"Imran Khan should resign as well as the reports were presented in the cabinet and Nawaz Sharif was consequently allowed to travel," he added.
"PML-N believes in upholding the law […] We accept every decision taken," he added.