“The cases against PTI founder are illegal and so is the sentence,” says PTI leader Ali Zafar
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi have been sentenced to 14 years with rigorous punishment by an accountability court in Islamabad on Wednesday in the Toshakhana reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Alongside the sentence, the court has also imposed a fine of Rs1.5 billion on the former premier and his wife, disqualifying him from holding public office for 10 years.
Following the verdict, PTI and leaders of other political parties as well as legal and political experts shared their views on the accountability court’s verdict in light of its timing, which is just days ahead of the country’s general elections, slated to be held on February 8.
PTI leader and senior lawyer Ali Zafar complained the judgement was issued in haste and that the requirement of justice was not fulfilled.
“Yesterday, PTI founder and lawyers said that 17 witnesses should be allowed to cross-examine, but the court told them to go to the high court after which permission will be given for cross-examination,” he said, adding that today’s verdict was issued before the high court’s hearing could even be held.
“It is a mistrial if cross-examination is not allowed. The cases against PTI founder are illegal and so is the sentence,” Zafar maintained.
Aitzaz for fixing appeals before Feb 8
Aitzaz Ahsan, in conversation with the media in the Lahore High Court, said the sentences would be suspended by the high court.
Ahsan suggested fixing appeals for hearing before February 8, the day of polls across the country.
“The accused was not given the right to defend himself while issuing the sentences. Prosecution lawyers were appointed counsel for the accused. The accused was punished without taking the statement [pertaining to] Section 342,” the senior politician and lawyer maintained.
Ahsan also stated that Khan’s witnesses were also not summoned in the cipher case. “The statement of PTI founder [pertaining to] Section 342 in the cipher case does not have his signature.”
The political stalwart maintained that Pakistan would be ridiculed around the world in the wake of the sentences against Khan and his party’s senior leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi, while the verdict will also badly impact the country’s economy.
Ahsan complained that even PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz took cars from Toshakhana and sold them, but no such case was filed against her.
“We have been watching the same drama for 70 years, it should stop now. Today it is happening with one party, tomorrow it will happen with another,” he lamented, highlighting the incessant political instability in Pakistan.
Hamid Khan, a senior lawyer and PTI leader, said that the party will appeal against both convictions and pursue legal recourse in line with the Constitution.
Responding to a question about Imran refusing to accept the decision as it was issued in haste, Hamid said: “There have been all kinds of legal violations [in the case]. For instance, his lawyers were separated from him since Monday. They closed the evidence and didn’t allow counsels to make arguments.”
The senior lawyer added that the court, on its own, appointed two defence counsels from the prosecution and quickly made them conduct cross-examination in the case. “It cannot even be termed cross-examination. They only filled the file. The trial was not conducted accordingly to the law.”
He said that the case was only rushed by the judges — who seem under compulsion — to be wrapped up quickly before the elections. “The evidences were recorded even after court hours ended, even though it usually gets adjourned to the next working hours.”
He added that the court was apparently “under pressure”, as it neither cared about court hours nor its procedures nor the constitutional rights of the accused to provide them with a fair trial and due process.
Tarar terms Khan as ‘fraud, corrupt person’
Meanwhile, reacting to the court’s decision Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Ata Tarar, in a press conference, said no prime minister has done so much corruption as the PTI founder did.
“PTI founder sold gifts on the black market. All the gifts that came were sold in official papers. The actual value of these gifts, worth billions of rupees, was received from elsewhere,” he said.
Addressing Khan, Tarar termed him as a “fraud and a corrupt person”.
“He created a whole system of corruption. You misused your powers,” he reiterated.
‘Khan ineligible for any position’
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Faisal Karim Kundi, when reacting to the verdict, said PTI founder is not eligible for any position, highlighting his insignificant position in the upcoming general elections which will be held on Febraury 8.
“The founder of PTI is not in the electoral field at the moment.”
He predicted that most of the independent candidates, competing on PTI’s behalf will join other parties in the general polls.
‘Questions will be raised’
Commenting on Khan and Bushra Bibi’s sentence, senior journalist Mazhar Abbas said that questions will be raised on the timing of the sentence. “A lot of questions are being raised on trial in haste.”
He added that Khan received a 10-year sentence in a different case and this 14-year sentence in another and what kind of reaction would PTI supporters show in such a situation.
“It was expected [for Khan] to receive sentences in both cases. But would these cases be politically accepted among Khan’s supporters and independent people,” he questioned.
Abbas maintained that politics in our part of the world is polarised, as positions are taken in politics. “Because of which I don’t think that the workers and supporters will have any particular reaction to the case. They will look at it from the legal aspect.”
The party will consider legal recourse and look towards the high courts and Supreme Court in this regards, he said.
Highlighting the recent removal of PTI leader Latif Khosa from Khan’s legal team by the PTI founder, Abbas said: “The non-seriousness from PTI lawyers is also a reason for concern. Even today, when the verdict was expected, PTI lawyers were not present.”
Right to pursue other courts
Sharing his viewpoint on the verdict, legal expert Mustafa Ramdey said the accused reserved the right to pursue legal options against the decision.
“The accused have the right to approach the high court against the sentence.”