Apr 09, 2019 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on Political prisoner?
With Nawaz out on medical bail, many ask if a convict deserves such unusual relief. They say this may be the first time a convict in Pakistan got such relief and it’s unclear if he is even gravely ill. But his fans raise a more basic issue. They say the legal processes behind his de-seating and conviction were even more unusual and thus he isn’t a convict but a political prisoner who deserves full relief.
Gandhi and Mandela were political prisoners. So it seems odd to call a lesser politico like Nawaz one, who, using layperson lenses, seems very corrupt even to me. But many credible sources saw corrupt mortals like Brazil’s Lula and Malaysia’s Ibrahim as political prisoners too as stature and perceived dishonesty matter not under global definitions. The Council of Europe defines them as persons jailed by rulers via unfair legal processes due to political enmity. Calling Nawaz one seems odd given that he was the ruler when de-seated. But his fans say that Pakistan’s real hidden rulers can and have often removed assertive civilian rulers covertly via dubious cases.
That Nawaz had disputes with these forces on ties with India and Jihadis is known, fans say. They say therefore many dubious legal processes were used to de-seat and jail Nawaz. The SC used Article 184(3) to start a fast-tracked public-interest inquiry saying that serious Panama-leaks charges against a sitting PM made it urgent to investigate him quickly. This unusual, first-ever such SC inquiry against a PM was criticized by some for blurring the judiciary-executive divide as executive agencies usually undertake them. Some say this precedence should now be used to fast-track the cases (some very serious) pending for long against the current PM, e.g., the Banigala land, helicopter misuse, PTV terrorism attack, PTI foreign funding and Tyrian White cases. They say since PTI is now the ruling party, accountability must focus much more on its KP era, as PTI demanded loudly against PML-N during its era.
Since executive agencies were delaying matters, I had supported the SC inquiry against Nawaz in columns here with the proviso that given the unusual inquiry, later processes must strictly follow clear law and precedence. But some find even later processes unusual, e.g., when at the end of the inquiry into many matters, the SC de-seated Nawaz on a side point saying that given established facts the trial guaranteed to all under constitution’s Article 10 wasn’t needed. But some say this established facts proviso isn’t given in law and de-seating him under Article 62(1)(f) for not reporting a receivable asset (unpaid salary from son) in his election forms was odd too. They say the law allows use of cash accounting under which receivables aren’t reported at all and the Income Tax law requires individuals to report only salary received. Since the verdict was from the SC, no appeal was held before new judges. So critics say his de-seating involved a four-fold jeopardy: unusual inquiry, absence of trial, dubious grounds and lack of appeal.
Fans find the next two verdicts that led to his removal as party President and life-time disqualification unusual too as both stemmed from his initial de-seating. They also object to both otherwise too. They say expanding the remit of Article 62(1)(f) beyond the constitution from MPs to party officials represents a new law which only Parliament can make. They also find the life-time ban harsh and contradictory. So when MPs are de-seated under election laws by election tribunals for hiding assets, they are even often allowed to run in the ensuing by-elections. But MPs de-seated for hiding assets under Article 62(1)(f) now become disqualified for life for the same offence. They find it odd that people are disqualified for 7-10 years only for far more serious offenses under other laws but for life for even minor ones under Article 62(1)(f). They also ask why there should be one uniform lifetime sentence under Article 62(1)(f) when the severity of offences may vary so much across cases.
They also critique the trials that led Nawaz to jail. They say intense higher pressure was applied on lower courts (whose verdicts are often nixed on appeal) to issue his first verdict three weeks before polls, which may have affected poll results. This verdict was actually later suspended by IHC due to major prima facie errors. A second case was nixed by NAB court. Some say even the third verdict via which Nawaz was in jail before bail has many gaps, e.g., failure to link assets to Nawaz.
All these critiques seem weighty but a firm conclusion is elusive. Also, even if the verdicts are all weak, some say they could be due to a coincidental series of mistakes. But the chances of that seem low to others. Given the high political stakes, human rights agencies and the SC under the new CJ may consider reviewing the legal processes of at least the closed cases where no appeal is now possible otherwise.
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