Treason case: LHC orders removal of Cyril Almeida’s name from ECL, withdraws warrants

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Former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Dawn Assistant Editor Cyril Almeida appeared before a full bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday for hearing of a petition seeking treason proceedings against the two ex-PMs and journalist.

As the hearing commenced, the three-judge bench comprising justices Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Atir Mahmood and Chaudhry Masood Jahangir ─ which had in the last hearing placed Almeida’s name on the Exit Control List and issued non-bailable warrants for his arrest for not attending previous court proceedings ─ ordered that the journalist’s name be removed from the no-fly list and the warrants withdrawn.

Almeida’s counsel Ahmed Rauf told the court that at the last hearing, he had stated that he was informed over the phone about the petition and was not even aware of the content. Prior to Monday’s hearing, the lawyer had already filed written replies and comments on behalf of Almeida.

Editor Dawn Zaffar Abbas had already announced that Almeida is a law-abiding citizen and would definitely appear before the court on Oct 8. He said that the notice served on Almeida was delivered at Dawn’s Islamabad bureau in the middle of last week, and journalists and officials at the bureau said the earlier two notices were never delivered. Abbas was also in court today.

Sharif, who was recently released from jail after receiving bail in the Avenfield case, had also been absent from previous hearings as he had been receiving condolences over the death of his wife.

Sharif, Abbasi and Almeida’s attendance was noted and all three respondents were ordered to submit written replies to the court and appear before the bench on Oct 22.

Absence of AG
“What action has the government taken with respect to Article 6?” Justice Jahangir asked.

“This case is related to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra),” Deputy Attorney General Mian Tariq responded.

“Pemra’s job is to prevent broadcasts of speech. Taking action under Article 6 is the government’s job,” Justice Jahangir noted. He added: “This is a sensitive issue.”

Irked at the absence of the attorney general, Justice Naqvi ordered that he attend the next hearing on Oct 22 and submit a complete report on the matter.

A local lawyer Afaq Ahmed today filed a petition requesting that the treason case be set aside, arguing that it was not in accordance with law, and did not hold the signature of the petitioner but instead of her lawyer. High court rolls do not allow action on such petitions, Ahmed maintained.

Ahmed asked the court to make him party to the treason petition and scrap the case against Sharif. The maintainability of the petition must be assessed. It was not taken up by the court today.

Security was tight around LHC premises, with a contingent of Rangers and police officials deployed outside the court, and greater vigilance at the entry and exit points of the court.

The controversy 

Civil society member Amina Malik, had filed the petition on the basis of an interview given by Sharif to Dawn on May 11. According to the petition, the former PM spoke about cross-border militancy and the need to end it.

After the publication of the interview, the National Security Council held a meeting to deliberate on the matter. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who was prime minister at the time, called on Sharif to take him into confidence about the deliberations.

According to the petitioner, Abbasi’s action amounted to sedition as he had violated his oath of office.

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