Responding to a former chief justice of Pakistan’s libel notice, the PTI chief’s legal counsel has claimed Khan’s statements were merely ‘an expression of protest.’
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan did not “mean to” implicate former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in the alleged rigging of the 2013 general elections, and was merely expressing his “disappointment,” according to the PTI chief’s official response to Chaudhry’s Rs. 20-billion libel notice.
In a six-page response dated Aug. 2—12 days prior to the launch of Khan’s “Azadi March”—lawyers Hamid Khan and Ahmad Awais have urged the former chief justice to retract his libel notice. “In the first place, we would like to acknowledge your invaluable contribution to the case of rule of law, supremacy of the Constitution and independence of judiciary,” it states, adding that as a participant of the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of Chaudhry, Khan had “high expectations” from the judiciary.
According to the response, Khan was “shocked” at the judiciary’s “step motherly treatment” of the PTI after the elections. “Being so sensitive and perceptive, you can certainly understand the agony and disillusionment that our client and his party members had to go through,” it states.
Responding to Chaudhry’s notice in numbered paragraphs, Khan’s response claims that appointing judicial officers as district returning-officers and returning-officers was “a step in the right direction” but was flawed in its implementation. During his daily speeches to supporters on Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue, Khan has claimed the DROs and ROs were directly responsible for the alleged rigging that allowed the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) to come into power.
The official response submitted to the Supreme Court also claims that Khan never resorted to any “malicious, scandalous and disparaging language against the judiciary.” It states: “The ROs and DROs were performing administrative functions during the elections and could not be treated as judicial officers.”
According to lawyers Hamid Khan and Awais, the PTI chief’s “expression of disappointment” resulted from the perceived failure of the Election Commission of Pakistan and the judiciary “to dispense justice to him and his party at every level.” It admits that the language used might have been “inappropriate” but claims this is the “nature of discourse during public meetings.” Referring specifically to Khan’s accusations, the response claims the PTI chief never meant any of it. “He did not mean any of the [sic] what you have quoted him to have said. It was only an expression of protest and disappointment stated rather in strong terms.”
The response also praises Chaudhry and his judgments, despite Khan’s questioning of several verdicts in speeches during the past month. “There are no two opinions that while sitting on the bench you and your colleagues rendered independent judgments without fear or favor.” However, it states that the “activist Supreme Court under your leadership” often interpreted Constitutional provisions “liberally and widened their scope.”
“How is it any fault of our client to expect from an activist Supreme Court to provide an immediate redressal of complaints of PTI candidates by exercising its jurisdiction liberally under Article 184(3) by implementing its own judgment in this behalf,” the response states, claiming Khan expected the Supreme Court to take suo moto notice of the alleged rigging and ensure justice to him. When it failed to deliver, he had no choice but to resort to “not very cautious” language.
The response to the libel notice also defends the PTI’s claims that the elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province were “free and fair” even as the rest of the country suffered from “unprecedented rigging.”
“There is no hypocrisy on the part of our client,” it states. “The elections held in KPK have been accepted as fair by all parties concerned,” it adds, noting that Khan is willing to back vote auditing in the province if required.
According to Hamid Khan and Ahmad Awais, the cricketer-turned-politician did not mean to “cause injury to your [Chaudhry] reputation.” However, in a message posted on social media site Twitter on Aug. 25, Khan said: “I stand by all my statements on ex-CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry, the ROs, and all those involved in May 2013 election rigging.”
The official response, meanwhile, concludes with a note of caution to the chief justice, stating: “With due respect … we believe it may not be appropriate for a former chief justice of Pakistan to enter into any personal litigation … we hope that you will reconsider the idea of entering into personal litigation.”
On July 25, former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had sent a defamation notice worth Rs. 20 billion to Imran Khan. According to the notice, legal proceedings would be initiated if Khan failed to apologize for the allegations he had leveled against Chaudhry. These included poll rigging in the 2013 general elections and securing a leadership position for his son Arsalan with Balochistan’s investment board.