Information minister hails ‘victory of people’ after Islamabad High Court ruling maintains jail terms of former prime minister
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday dismissed two appeals of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif against his imprisonment sentences in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Avenfield Property references.
The two-member bench of Justices Umar Farooq and Mohsin Akhtar issued a nine-page judgment in which it also upheld the earlier decisions of an accountability court in Islamabad that had sentenced Sharif to 11 years’ imprisonment in the Avenfield reference, and seven years in jail in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference. The same ruling had also fined him Rs. 1.3 billion and Rs. 1.5 billion in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references, respectively.
“Since appellant is fugitive from law, hence has lost his right of audience before this court and we are left with no choice except to dismiss his appeals. The instant appeal is dismissed. Appellant may file an application before this court, as and when he surrenders or is captured by the authorities, for decision of the appeal on merits,” read the judgment. “Needless to observe that the said application, if and when is made, shall be decided in accordance with law,” it added.
According to the court order, Sharif was provided his right to a “fair trial,” but is currently an absconder. “Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was provided a fair trial inasmuch as learned trial court provided him opportunity of hearing as well as cross-examining the prosecution witnesses and only after the proper trial, his conviction was recorded; he despite being on bail, proceeded abroad and did not appear before this court and without any justification, remained absent on a number of dates,” read the judgment, adding that the court was “left with no option” but to declare him a fugitive under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.
Sharif, currently in London, was granted bail and a special “one time” permission to go abroad for medical treatment in November 2019. The government maintains that despite the passage of nearly two years, he has yet to receive any treatment and has initiated efforts to get him deported from the United Kingdom. Due to his self-exile, Sharif has missed several hearings on his appeals and had already been declared an absconder.
Reacting to the verdict, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed it reflected the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s stance and was a “victory of the people.” He reiterated his calls for the Sharif family to return “looted wealth,” recalling that the former prime minister had yet to pay the fines that had been imposed on him by the accountability court. He also lashed out at Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Vice President Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Sharif, claiming he hoped that “justice would be ensured” in her ongoing appeal against the court sentencing her to one year imprisonment in the Avenfield reference.
Similarly, Adviser to the P.M. on Interior and Accountability Shahzad Akbar said the government has once again requested the British government to deport Sharif. He said the PMLN leader had applied for an extension in his stay based on medical grounds, adding that he would have the right to appeal if the U.K. did decide to deport him. “If the court acquits him, we will not object,” he said and assured Sharif that he would be provided the best security if he feared for his life upon a return to Pakistan.