A flurry of cases and circumstances are making the political life of former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan difficult, and the latest among them is the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC’s) decision to charge sheet him in the ongoing contempt of court proceedings against him for his ‘threatening’ remarks against Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry at a public rally. The general impression is that the honourable bench reached the decision after his “unsatisfactory” responses in the last two hearings. The five-member bench, consisting of Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar, repeatedly asked the PTI chairman to offer an unconditional apology for his “controversial” remarks, but his lawyers have some other plans, and Imran Khan’s ‘reluctant’ regret over the remarks has brought him to the danger zone. Now Imran Khan and his lawyers have two weeks to prepare the case, as the court will frame charges against the former prime minister on September 27. Imran Khan wanted to speak his mind in court, which the bench did not allow. Perhaps that was too late.
In the first place, Imran Khan’s remarks about Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry were inappropriate. A judge’s judgment can be questioned, but not the judge’s. Imran Khan directly addressed the judge for approving PTI leader Shahbaz Gill’s physical remand in a sedition case, which attracted the court’s attention. Also, Imran Khan is facing a terrorism case, on the complaint of a colleague of judge Zeba Chaudhry. The proceedings of the case will determine the nature of the case, but Thursday’s proceedings brought to light one thing Imran Khan’s replies to the court’s show-cause notice appeared to be “justifying” contempt of the judiciary and showed “no remorse or regret”. The country has several examples of court action in contempt cases in recent years, which claimed the scalp of several politicians. The examples of Danial Chaudhry, Talal Chaudhry and Nehal Hashmi, however, cannot be compared to Imran Khan’s case. In the previous cases, the litigants had clearly committed contempt of the judges, but Imran Khan’s comment had a different angle, and for these reasons, lead defence counsel Hamid Khan said, “Often times, the matter is not as serious as it is understood to be”. Also, ace lawyers Munir A Malik and Makhdoom Ali Khan, who were appointed as amicus curiae begged the court to drop the proceedings in the best interest of the court as people have the right to open legal proceedings against a judge if they deem their verdicts against the law. Another fact, which must be considered is that lower court judges are often harassed by lawyers, and in several cases, civil judges were beaten by unruly lawyers. In those stances, the superior courts hardly took any action. Once a Lahore High Court judge was attacked by a mob of lawyers at the Multan bench, but the lawyers stood not guilty and subsequently, were declared innocent. This case must highlight the instances of manhandling and intimidation of subordinate judges. And in this regard, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah has rightly said, “We are defenders of freedom of expression but incitement cannot be allowed.”