A judge at the centre of allegations by Pakistan‘s main opposition party that he admitted to wrongly convicting a former prime minister has denied the charge and demanded legal action against party leaders, deepening a political controversy in the South Asian country.
Judge Arshad Malik, who in December handed PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif a seven-year jail term on corruption charges, issued a statement on Sunday rejecting accusations that he admitted to bowing to pressure from unspecified sources to convict the three-time former prime minister.
The allegations were made a day earlier by PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz, Sharif’s daughter, during a press conference where she aired a video that purported to show the judge admitting to legal fallacies in the case against her father and saying he was “blackmailed” into delivering the verdict.
The development caused an uproar in Pakistani political circles, with Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan declaring that the video was “fake”.
Awan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, swept to power after a general election last year that many rights groups and opposition parties claim was “engineered” by the country’s powerful military.
Sharif was dismissed as prime minister in July 2017 by Pakistan’s Supreme Court for lying on a parliamentary wealth declaration, a verdict that was also vehemently contested.
He was convicted a year later on corruption charges. His sentence in one case was suspended in September, but he remains imprisoned in another case.
The Sharifs have maintained their innocence, blaming the military – which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 71-year history – for the cases against them and for political defections before the 2018 polls. The military denies any involvement in politics or pressuring the judiciary.
In a statement on Sunday, Malik, the judge, said the video was “a lie [and] fake.
“There was no direct or indirect pressure on me, nor was I presented with any bribes,” he said.
Malik can be seen briefly in the footage, but for most of its duration his face is not visible while a voice, purportedly his, can be heard detailing legal issues with the case against Sharif.
The judge said the audio was edited to form the sentences that appear to exonerate Sharif.
“The videos shown by Maryam [Nawaz] at her press conference are not only contrary to the facts, they are an attempt to use remarks made on a number of different topics at different times by editing them,” he said.
In her press conference, Nawaz claimed the judge had told Nasir Butt, a PML-N party worker, that he was being blackmailed by unspecified people who had videos of him engaging in acts of a personal nature.
Malik admitted to knowing Butt in a personal capacity, but denied any such blackmail had taken place.
“If I was greedy for bribes or under pressure, then I would not have convicted him in one case and acquitted him in the other,” he said.
He alleged that Sharif’s family had offered to bribe him during hearings in the case, and “threatened me with dire consequences if I did not cooperate, which I strongly rejected”.
Pakistan’s media regulator on Sunday issued notices to several news television channels that carried the press conference live, saying it violated broadcast rules because it carried allegations “against judiciary and state institutions”.
Reporting by Al Jazeera’s Asad Hashim. Follow him on Twitter @AsadHashim