Pakistan court to indict former PM Imran Khan in contempt case

Imran Khan speaks during an anti-government protest rally in Islamabad, Pakistan.
A court in Pakistan decided Thursday it will indict the country’s populist former Prime Minister Imran Khan in a contempt case for threatening a female judge [Farooq Naeem/AFP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – A court in Pakistan has ruled that it will indict former Prime Minister Imran Khan on charges of contempt of court relating to remarks made against the judge of a lower court, and charges against him will be framed on September 22.

The five-member bench at the Islamabad High Court (IHC), led by the chief justice of the court, Athar Minallah, issued a ruling after a nearly two-and-a-half-hour long hearing on Thursday.

“We are not convinced that the respondent has purged himself of the wrongdoing alleged against him,” the ruling read.

Khan’s contempt of court case was initiated after a speech he gave on August 20, where he threatened “action” by taking legal recourse against senior Islamabad police officials and Judge Zeba Chaudhry, who had approved the two-day detention of Khan’s close aide Shahbaz Gill.

Gill was arrested by authorities on August 9 after he was accused of inciting a mutiny in Pakistan’s powerful military during a TV show. He is facing sedition charges arising from his alleged comments.

The first hearing of Khan’s contempt case took place on August 31, when Khan’s legal team was grilled by the bench, who expressed their disappointment at the response submitted and instructed Khan to submit a “supplementary” response.

On Wednesday, Khan’s team submitted a revised response in which he expressed “deep regret” for his comments during the August 20 speech but stopped short of an outright apology.

During the hearing on Thursday, Minallah pointed out that the revised reply by Khan does not show any “remorse or regret.”

Imran Khan
The cricket star-turned-politician faces mounting legal challenges after his August 20 speech [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

After the announcement of the decision, Imran Khan, who is also the chairman of his political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf spoke to reporters outside the courtroom and said he wanted to speak to the judges, but he was not allowed.

The ruling means that Khan’s legal conundrums continue. The former prime minister has made several court appearances in recent days.

Khan’s government was removed through a vote of no confidence in April, after which he has held numerous large public rallies. He has heavily criticised political opponents, state institutions, the security forces, and so-called “neutrals” — a commonly-used euphemism for Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.

Despite his aggressive stance in recent months, Khan’s troubles have mounted since the August 20 speech. Other cases have been filed against Khan, including one under the country’s strict anti-terrorism laws for “threatening” senior police officials and a judge. He has also been charged with unlawful assembly.

However, he has received some relief in other cases where courts have granted him bail.

Reza Ali, a Lahore-based lawyer and constitutional law expert, told Al Jazeera that the IHC has made it clear that for them, the matter is bordering on criminal contempt.

“Ordinary contempt is when you say scandalise a judge or say something that scandalises the court and its dignity. But Khan’s case seems to be a matter of obstruction of justice, who is, on the face of it, seems to be threatening a judicial officer in the performance of functions,” Ali said.

He said he believes the contempt notice would have been discharged had an unconditional apology been submitted, “but since that did not happen, the court will go on to indict Khan,” he said.

While the indictment does not mean conviction, Ali added, it will start a trial of contempt where Khan will be provided with a chance to offer his defence.

“It is quite evident that simple unconditional apology and throwing yourself at the mercy of court would have solved matters, but it appears that egos have prevailed,” the Lahore-based lawyer said.

Source: Al Jazeera