EDITORIAL: In this season of politically motivated arrests and detentions no rules or restrictions apply, even courts can be defied with impunity. Those freed are promptly booked under new charges or the more handy Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) and locked away in a different judicial jurisdiction. So it has been with a senior PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) leader and former chief minister of Punjab Chaudhry Parvez Elahi.
Under judicial remand in a Lahore jail in an alleged money laundering case he was to appear before a special court on Wednesday but failed to show up. Sensing that he could be freed, the authorities had shifted him to Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.
When Judge Bakhat Behzad asked the police and jail officials about no-show of the accused, the DIG operations offered the lame excuse that a police team had gone to Adiala Jail to bring Elahi back to Lahore for court appearance, but the jail superintendent had refused to hand him over due to (fresh) detention orders. Of course, he did not explain who gave the orders and why.
It may be recalled that last January, before he renounced his affiliation with the PTI, Fawad Chaudhry was taken from Lahore to Islamabad despite Lahore High Court’s repeated production orders. No one was held liable to contempt of court for wilful disobedience of the court directives, though. That seems to have emboldened those in authority to do the same in the present instance.
Judge Bakhat Behzad, however, was in no mood to let it pass. Describing the situation as grim that pricked his judicial conscience he said: “it is difficult for me to understand how the State remained oblivious to the continued incarceration of under-trial prisoners without being produced before the courts,” adding, “how the detention of accused Ch Parvez Elahi can be justified?” And alluding to countless opposition activists thrown in overcrowded prisons indefinitely, the honourable judge observed: “the unfortunate situation cries [out] aloud for taking a stern action against the [sic] responsible.” And stern action he took, issuing show-cause notices to the Punjab secretary for home, inspectors general of the police and prisons, also imposing a fine of Rs 50,000 on each officer.
The Accountant General of Punjab has been directed to stop their salaries till the compliance of court orders. Furthermore, the investigating officer has been told to present a complete challan of the case against Elahi at the next hearing or face proceedings under the law. The conscientious judge has said everything agitating the public mind followed by necessary action.
It remains to be seen how this ‘democratic’ government deals with this legal obstacle in the ongoing political games. The police officers in question are believed to have followed the orders from higher authorities who will try and protect them.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023