Government vows to contest the ‘one-time permission,’ which is valid from May 8 to July 5
The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday granted Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) President Shahbaz Sharif a “one time” permission to fly abroad for medical treatment and ordered the government to remove his name from the Exit Control List.
The ruling, delivered by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, stressed that the permission would span a specific time period—starting from May 8 and expiring on July 5. It was delivered as a result of a petition filed by Sharif seeking the removal of his name from the no-fly list. During proceedings, he had contended that the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government had been “politically victimizing” him and urged the court to allow him to leave the country and seek medical treatment for his cancer diagnosis as was his right as a citizen of Pakistan.
During proceedings today (Friday), the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly had submitted a return ticket for London, contending that this proved he fully intended to return, as he had already done earlier. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Sharif had secured bail in the Ashiana Housing and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases and traveled abroad for medical treatment; he had subsequently returned and been implicated in an assets beyond means case. Last month, Sharif was also granted bail in the third case.
In his petition, moved through Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar and Advocate Amjad Pervez, Sharif said that he had traveled abroad earlier and returned and there was no reason to believe he would not do the same this time. The prosecution, rejecting his claims, had argued that the treatment he required could be secured in Pakistan. To this, the defense had argued that Sharif had already secured an appointment with the London doctor who was managing his case for Monday (May 10), adding that it would prove difficult to obtain another one during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It had also argued that there was a great risk of flights to and from the U.K. being cancelled in the near future.
Sharif had submitted that he was a politician, not a “smuggler or terrorist” and should be allowed to go abroad. He had also claimed that he would return to Pakistan “as soon as his doctors allowed”—echoing statements of his elder brother, Nawaz Sharif, who traveled to London through a similar “one-time” permission in 2019. He has since been declared an absconder.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government would avail all possible options to get the LHC’s decision reversed. “The prime minister has pointed out the weaknesses of the justice system many times,” he said, reiterating allegations of Sharif being involved in money-laundering worth billions of rupees. The accusations—repeatedly asserted by PTI lawmakers—have yet to be proven in court.
Similarly, Special Assistant to the P.M. on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill questioned why Sharif had not built a single hospital during his government’s tenure that could treat him for cancer. “First [Sharif] provided a false guarantee for this brother, allowing him to flee abroad and never return. Now he has been declared an absconder,” he wrote on Twitter. “Should he [Shahbaz] not have been in jail for being an accomplice to an absconder?” he added.