ISLAMABAD - On an ‘action-packed’ day, the Special Court Thursday saw its judges walk out, but later clarify that the court was intact and functional, putting to rest the claims of former strongman Pervez Musharraf’s legal team that the chief judge had recused himself.
The court also rejected the application against arrest warrants for Pervez Musharraf and summoned the ex-dictator on March 31 for indictment.
During the hearing of the application against Mach 14 order, the defence team cast doubts on court’s neutrality that led to walking out of judges in protest, after which Musharraf’s counsels started telling the media that as the chief judge has recused himself, the court has become dysfunctional and the fortune of case hanged in balance.
Justice Faisal Arab, the head judge, walked out of the courtroom after objectionable remarks by Anwar Mansoor Khan, counsel of Pervez Musharraf, against the learned judge. The other two judges, Justice Tahira Safdar and Justice Yawar Ali Khan, also left the room after the head of the judge bench refused to hear the case proceeding.
But at 2pm the judges returned and issued the order clarifying that no judge hearing high treason case against ex-President Musharraf had separated himself from the case, that the court was still functional and that “disgusted by such an attitude the court rose (just) for the day.”
The order lamented behaviour of Anwar Mansoor, whom it said held in high esteem since the start of hearing on Dec 24, 2013. “The conduct of Anwar Mansoor Khan did not demonstrate the level of decency towards the court, which is expected from a senior counsel.”
When the Special Court resumed hearing at 9:50am, lead defence counsel Anwar Mansoor through an application sought rectification of the March 14 order with further relief to make all consequential changes in it. In that order the court had issued non-bailable arrest warrants for 70-year-old former general and summoned him for indictment on March 31.
Anwar Mansoor contended that he did not say at any stage that the accused (Musharraf) did not intend to appear before the court. On this, Justice Arab remarked that “you stated that the accused could not appear before the court due to security threats.”
Mansoor said yes he had submitted that the accused was not able to come due to security concerns, as highlighted by the interior ministry in its March 10 letter. Anwar Mansoor said that the court had also accepted that his client was facing security threats and the court also granted exemption to his client from appearance for the day.
Mansoor continuing his arguments said that the court issued non-bailable warrants for Musharraf without any proper reason and “this is not a joke”. He said that on one side court exempted the accused from appearance and on other hand issued non-bailable warrants.
Mansoor said that public prosecutor Akram Sheikh also pleaded before the bench to read indictment before the Defence Counsel (Mansoor), contending that charges could not be read out to the counsel of accused as the same was alien to the Criminal Procedure Code and it were wrongly incorporated in the order. He contended that he was also misquoted in March 14 order; therefore, the order should be rectified.
On the completion of defence counsel’s argument, Akram Sheikh started presenting rebuttal. However, Ahmed Raza Kasuri stood up and objected, saying Sheikh could not argue because the judgment on his appointment as prosecutor has been reserved by the court and till the decision on it he should not be allowed to contest the application. Mansoor also joined him and interrupted the proceedings and did not allow Sheikh to continue with his arguments.
Justice Faisal Arab said, “Till such time a decision is rendered qua impartiality or otherwise of Akram Sheikh, he can address the court.” The court said order on Akram Sheikh’s appointment would be announced before recording of the evidence. But despite that the Musharraf team kept on disrupting the proceedings. When the chair ordered Kasuri to take a seat, he got infuriated and said he was going to observe a walkout. Head of Defence Counsel Sharifuddin Pirzada convinced him not to observe a walk out.
Anwar Mansoor coming on the rostrum said, “I am not feeling comfortable the way you (Justice Faisal) are conducting the case.” The court asked him to say openly what he wanted to say. Anwar Mansoor alleged that the court was not hearing the Defence Counsel’s arguments and it awarded more time to the prosecution team.
Justice Faisal said for the last three months they have been hearing the case patiently and still the defence side was not convinced that the court was neutral. The court told Anwar Mansoor that he is an officer of the court and ought to have desisted from behaving in a manner unbecoming of a counsel. Justice Faisal asked him if he was aggrieved by the orders of this court he had every right to challenge it before a court of competent jurisdiction.
But Anwar Mansoor maintained that he is not satisfied with the way the case is being processed. Justice Arab remarked that he has no personal interest in the case and refused to be a member of the bench. He remarked that if the defense counsels think that the judges are not impartial, then he would disassociate himself from the bench.
He questioned, “Is this respect to the court!” The Special bench had already issued order but questions were being raised that the court is not impartial, he said. “This is too much; you are throwing dirt on the credibility of the court which is really inappropriate,” Justice Faisal Arab observed. The judges, who seemed upset, left the courtroom and retired in their chambers at National Library.
The defence counsels exploited this situation and started saying that the bench has become non-functional and the fate of the case hanged in balance. Since the beginning of high treason trial against Musharraf his counsels have been using delaying tactics, misbehaving, intimidating, accusing and threatening the Special Court judges. Rana Ejaz, one of the defence counsels, on the face of Court even said the judges “are hired assassins”. But the judges had been tolerating all that with patience but Thursday’s assault proved more effective as it made the judges to walk out, even though ‘for a day’.