The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday decided to indict former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan in a contempt case on September 22, terming his supplementary reply in the case "dissatisfactory".
The IHC larger bench led by Chief Justice Athar Minallah and comprising Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Justice Tariq Mahmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar announced the decision.
The court was hearing the contempt of court case against Imran following his remarks against Additional Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry.
Both the amicus suggested the IHC discharge show cause notice against the former prime minister.
Even Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) representative Akhtar Hussain urged the high court to give one more opportunity to Imran for tendering an unconditional apology. However, the IHC unanimously decided to indict him.
The IHC also expressed dissatisfaction over Imran's supplementary reply in the contempt case, terming the party chief's statement 'incitement'.
The former premier was present in court with his lawyer Hamid Khan.
"As per the court's observation we have submitted the reply", Hamid said, referring to Imran's statement regarding the case.
After the IHC's show cause notice, the former premier submitted a second written reply yesterday, expressing his deep regret for the "unintentional" words he spoke about the judge.
"There will be no shame in expressing regret to the judge for my words," the PTI leader had said.
Hamid maintained that his client wanted the matter to be closed, which was mentioned in the written reply to the court.
He further said that during the hearing on August 31, the court handed over the cases of Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhry. He added that he would explicate how Imran's case was different from those Supreme Court decisions.
"I will also place the decision of the Supreme Court in the Imran Khan case before the court", he said.
IHC CJ Minallah said that the aim was to highlight three judgments of the Supreme Court, that in the Firdous Ashiq Awan case, three types of contempt of court are mentioned and that the Talal Chaudhry case was not criminal contempt of court.
The chief justice reiterated that criminal contempt of court was serious and intent could not be mentioned in it. He further stated that the counsel was told during the last hearing that this reference was of criminal contempt of court.
CJ Minallah maintained that there were no criminal contempt proceedings against Daniyal Aziz or Talal Chaudhry and that the high court was bound by the apex court's decisions.
Imran's counsel restated that they wanted to close this matter and had submitted the reports with the utmost respect.
"The court gave another opportunity to which a detailed reply was filed," Hamid said.
Justice Minallah stated that criminal contempt was a serious matter which had no justification.
"We are defenders of freedom of expression but incitement cannot be allowed. In criminal contempt, you cannot plead your intentions," he said.
On the direction of the court, Hamid read a part of a Supreme Court case.
The chief justice maintained that the PTI leader had tried to give justifications in his response and questioned if any former premier could justify that the IHC CJ did not know the law.
"We have to follow the law, no one can influence us", he said, adding that a great crime was committed but that there was no realisation of it.
The PTI lawyer maintained that he was not justifying the answer, but rather putting his own position forward.
Justice Minallah remarked that there was so much division within society that opponents could be insulted in public places. "If this happens to a judge, then what will happen?" he questioned.
Nothing good has happened in 70 years, the CJ said, asking the lawyer if he wanted to justify the former premier's statement. To this Hamid responded that he had intended to explain not justify the statement.
He asked if Imran's reply would have been the same if such comments were made about a judge of the apex court.
Justice Babar Sattar wondered how a political leader could stand up in a public gathering and announce legal action against a judge.
Hamid, in his arguments, said that he has submitted a supplementary reply keeping in view observations of the IHC. "We are seeking closure of the matter," he added again.
IHC CJ said that Imran's statement regarding the judge was 'incitement', while Justice Babar Sattar said that Imran's subsequent conduct did not show that there would be no harm to the judge.
Justice Sattar maintained that even after the speech and the contempt of court case, justifications continued to be presented in Imran's speeches.
The CJ said that the word "shameful" was used by Imran and told his lawyer that he was in a very risky position.
"The Nihal Hashmi case was similar, it was a threat without naming the judge," CJ Minallah said, adding that Hashmi had apologised but the SC did not consider his apology.
Meanwhile, the PTI chief could be seen praying on his tasbih (prayer beads) during the hearing.
Hamid said Imran wanted to come to the rostrum to explain his speech from yesterday which he alleged was "misreported".
Justice Minallah said that threatening a district judiciary judge was a more serious crime than threatening a Supreme Court judge.
He stated that a lot was said about the high court and how it never initiated contempt of court proceedings, but that the current case was "completely different".
The bench asked Hamid once again if he wanted to fight the case by giving justifications to which the counsel responded that he was simply explaining the matter, not giving justifications.
"If our court gives an order against someone and he stood outside and said that he would not leave the judge, would that be okay?" Justice Sattar questioned.
The CJ maintained that the PTI leader had been repeatedly told that this was a serious case and that a political leader had a huge responsibility regarding the words he or she used.
Turning to the lawyer next to him, Imran once again asked if he could approach the rostrum.
The chief justice further questioned if their impression would prevail or the judicial order, to which Hamid replied that it was not the direction he wished to take, rather he wanted the matter closed.
"There was no intention to threaten the lady judge. If the judge was threatened, we express our regret", he said. The CJ contended that this was a matter regarding a district court judge, not a "lady judge".
Advocate Hamid responded that an attempt was made to create the perception that this is a gender issue, to which Justice Minallah stated that the lawyer was talking about social media again.
"To date, has any political leader told his social media to refrain from wrongdoing? Leadership is responsible for this. Everyone is spreading propaganda through social media," he said.
He furthered that the judiciary was the biggest target of social media propaganda.
Hamid then claimed that his client had equal respect for high and subordinate judiciary.
"In the Firdous Ashiq Awan case, the court said that there may be no awareness, but at the moment you cannot take that argument, as it will not go in your favour," CJ Minallah advised. He also asked if the PTI leader had said that social media cannot be misused.
Justice Sattar maintained that in his reply, Imran had stated that he knew the appeal had already been filed.
The chief justice questioned if they had any faith in the system or would they make all decisions at political rallies.
Justice Sattar ordered reading of paragraph four of the reply to Hamid and then questioned if it was not a deliberate attempt to pre-empt the appeal.
"This court has never taken notice of scandalising, no one can influence us and what people say about us daily on social media does not affect us," the CJ said, adding that Justice Sattar had rejected the contempt petition against PTI leader Fawad Chaudhary two days ago, even though his statement was more grave.
Hamid said that he was aware of that. Meanwhile, Imran Khan repeatedly conversed with lawyer Shoaib Shaheen sitting next to him.
A case of criminal contempt can be formed against you, the chief justice said.
He further stated that if "contempt of court" was used for things people said, it would occur every day, therefore the court rarely took notice of what was said to it and underlined that the punishments given by the SC in contempt of court cases were low.
They maintained that the current case was one of judicial and criminal contempt which was a very sensitive matter.
The court then summoned Attorney General Ashtar Asif to the rostrum as Hamid Khan's arguments were completed.
"We used 'regret' repeatedly in the supplementary response, whatever was said was unintentional with no intention of contempt of court", Hamid said, claiming that they could never think of contempt of court.
"We will be careful about the judiciary in the future", he stated.
Taking to the rostrum, Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf stated that the apex court had pardoned a similar incident eight years ago and now the offenders believe that they can repeat the same mistake and be pardoned continuously.
He claimed that an affidavit should have been submitted with Imran's reply.
"The intent and purpose of the defamator are very important," AG Ausaf said, adding that in 2014, a contempt of court case was also filed against Imran, with similar charges and procedures.
He highlighted that the charges against Imran were waived. The AG's argument was left incomplete as the court summoned judicial assistants to the rostrum.
Taking the rostrum, judicial assistant Makhdoom Ali Khan said public interest lies in the delivery of justice and said the same is present in freedom of speech.
Giving an example of the US and former president Donald Trump, Khan said Trump had called the apex court's decision the worst, yet the US supreme court showed restraint and sought another path. He added that what was said by the party chief during the public gathering might affect the judicial system.
The chief justice, replying to the judicial assistant, said the PTI has been threatening the court since the start of proceedings in the case.
"We want to make one clear to you, the conduct that should have been seen after the contempt of court proceedings was not present," said the chief justice.
"Do you want us to accept their explanation?"
Khan said the court should give respite to Imran in the case. The bench then asked the judicial assistant regarding his opinion, to which he replied that Imran's reply that was submitted should be accepted.
"Remorse has been expressed in this case," said Khan, adding that the court can "give one chance to Imran" as he wrapped up his argument.
Strict security arrangements were made prior to the hearing with a heavy police presence in the region and the road to the IHC blocked with barbed wire.
Admission of court reporters, including lawyers, to the courtroom, is subject to a pass from the Registrar's Office.
Talking to media personnel outside the court, Imran was asked to comment on the security situation prior to the hearing.
“It is as if Kulbhushan Yadav was coming,” he remarked adding that he was unaware of what everyone was afraid of.
When asked if he would apologise for his comments regarding the additional sessions judge, Imran joked that he wouldn’t do anything without the journalist’s permission.
PTI lawyers stopped journalists from asking any further questions.
Imran expressed disappointment that he could not watch the Pakistan vs. Afghanistan cricket match last night. He maintained that he would talk to journalists after the hearing.
PTI members, court personnel arrive
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Chief Minister Mahmood Khan arrived at the IHC before the hearing and was prevented from entering the court. He was joined by PTI leaders Ali Awan, Raja Khurram Nawaz, Murad Saeed, Fawad Chaudhary, among others.
The PTI members started chanting loud slogans ahead of the hearing.
The judicial assistant and senior lawyer Munir Malik also reached the Islamabad High Court. Shortly after, Advocate General Islamabad Jahangir Jadoon and Attorney General Ishtar Asif reached the courtroom as well.
A projector was also installed in the courtroom