LAHORE: Former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi refuted treason allegations against them as ‘unimaginable’ and ‘baseless’, as the former in his reply to the high court asked whether “the patriotism of the millions who voted me into power is also questionable”.
A three-member bench, headed by Justice Mazahar Ali Naqvi and comprising Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Chaudhry Masood Jahangir, heard the petition lodged by Advocate Azhar Siddiqui over a controversial interview of the former prime minister with daily private newspaper. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Nawaz Sharif and journalist Cyril Almeida were respondents in the case.
Nawaz in his reply submitted to the court on Monday stated that “an allegation as grave as treason is unimaginable”.
“In my head, several questions are being raised as to whether the Pakistani nation is also treacherous and whether the patriotism of the millions who voted me into power is also questionable,” Nawaz said in his reply.
The former premier further questioned, “Can those who make the country supreme be treacherous? Or can those who eliminate terrorism from the country be treacherous?”
“The country’s biggest court declared the measures of a dictator as unconstitutional, and asked a treason case to be filed against him. Where is that dictator now? He has been making a mockery of the judicial system for how long?”
Furthermore, Nawaz argued that “the petition shows a complete lack of good faith” and that “it has been filed only for political sensationalism and merits to be dismissed with exemplary costs”.
“I belong to the family which migrated for Pakistan and this country’s soil is more valuable to me than my life,” he added.
Meanwhile, Abbasi also submitted his reply and said the allegations against him were “false, baseless and based on lies”.
“I did not speak to Nawaz regarding the National Security Council (NSC) meeting and only discussed party matters with him,” Abbasi stated in his reply.
The former premier further said, “The news report mentioned in the petition is also factually incorrect.”
Meanwhile, Almeida, in the response submitted in court on his behalf by lawyer Ahmed Rauf, defended his interview with Sharif, saying he had quoted the three-time former PM “verbatim”.
In the statement, the court was told that the contents of the journalist’s interview with Nawaz were “written verbatim” and that “no malice or ulterior motive can be attributed” to him. It was further denied that “he [Almeida] was taken to Multan [to interview Sharif] through a special airplane”.
The court was told that Almeida had, in fact, travelled by road to interview the former prime minister.
The statement said: “The petitioner’s unsubstantiated claims reek of malice and ill-will towards Almeida and they have knowingly led astray this honourable court from the facts to suit their own motives.”
The statement added that “the petitioner has taken one statement out of context while ignoring the entire news article, which includes rather important public interest statements and has to be read as a whole.”
Furthermore, it was mentioned that Almeida “is a patriotic journalist who has been writing in the daily private newspaper on matters of public importance for years and is under a constitutional duty to apprise the nation of the views of their public leaders”.
The bench had ordered Abbasi and Sharif to submit their replies to the court, however, former premier Abbasi appeared before the bench, but Nawaz failed to do so.
Justice Mazahar Ali Naqvi questioned why Nawaz did not appear in court and remarked, “He should have been present for the hearing.”
Nawaz’s counsel, Naseer Bhutta responded, “You had summoned a reply which has been submitted.”
Justice Naqvi then stated, “Look Abbasi respects the courts and is present today.”
Bhutta in response said, “Nawaz did not appear today and this does not mean that he does not respect the courts.” The head of the three-judge bench then stated, “If Nawaz could not appear today for whatever reason, then you should have submitted a petition.”
Responding to the judge, Nawaz’s counsel said, “During the first hearing I got the impression that my client only has to appear once.”
At this, Justice Naqvi remarked, “It is fine that you got the wrong impression, but next time a petition should be submitted over failure to appear in court.”
The hearing of the case was then adjourned till November 12.
On May 12, Nawaz gave an interview to the local daily in which he had stated, “Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?”
“We have isolated ourselves. Despite giving sacrifices, our narrative is not being accepted. Afghanistan’s narrative is being accepted, but ours is not. We must look into it,” he added.
At the last hearing, the court had asked the deputy attorney general whether the federal government had taken any decision regarding the investigation in the case. The court was told that the case pertains to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and they have to conduct an inquiry in the case.
“How is this case pertaining to PEMRA, it seems you have not read the petition,” Justice Mazahar Ali Naqvi had remarked, adding that this is a sensitive case and the attorney general himself should appear before the court.
Further, the court had ordered that Cyril Almeida’s name is removed from the Exit Control List (ECL) and arrest warrants against him are withdrawn following his appearance in the courtroom.
Sharif, Abbasi and Almeida’s attendance was noted and all three respondents were ordered to submit written replies to the court.
The petition alleges that Abbasi shared crucial details of the National Security Council (NSC) meeting with Nawaz following his statements on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
“By leaking details of the NSC Abbasi committed high treason,” the petition says.
Siddiqui had argued that Nawaz’s controversial interview to a publication had dented the country’s image and sovereignty. He further alleged that Abbasi supported Nawaz in the matter.
The petitioner had pleaded that Sharif had committed sedition by rejecting the NSC statement and was liable for action as per the Constitution and the Pakistan Penal Code, and also sought action against Abbasi for violation of oath through his disclosure of the minutes of the NSC meeting to Sharif.
He further requested the court to order a treason trial against the three respondents.
In July, the LHC had decided to adjourn the hearing until after the general elections.