ISLAMABAD - The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday issued bailable arrest warrants for Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan in contempt of court case after he failed to appear in person before it.

A five-member commission, headed by Chief Election Commissioner Justice (r) Sardar Muhammad Raza heard the case. It also ordered the PTI chief to submit surety bonds of Rs100,000 till September 25.

Imran’s counsel Babar Awan argued that the party chief was abroad and that he returned back to the country just an hour ago. Imran respected the ECP and would appear before it whenever it orders, he added.

Awan is the fifth lawyer to defend Imran against contempt charges in the ECP. Having recently resigned from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and his Senate seat, this is Awan’s first high-profile case after joining the PTI. He has represented former PM Benazir Bhutto and PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in several corruption cases.

Ahmad Hassan, the counsel for the petitioner, argued that the commission’s orders had been violated. He observed Imran should have appeared before the commission, if he truly respected the commission. He asked the commission to continue its proceeding in accordance with the law. The ECP reserved its judgement in the contempt case and issued bailable arrest warrants against the PTI chief. 

Later talking to media outside the ECP, founding member of PTI Akbar S Babar said that Imran Khan was in the country and he should have appeared before the commission.  He said that PTI chief Imran was deliberately avoiding cases.

The commission issued the contempt notice to Imran Khan on January 24 over his remarks about the commission on the petitions filed by former PTI member Akbar S Babar seeking Imran Khan’s disqualification. Last month, the commission had issued a second show-cause notice to Imran after he failed to reply to the earlier notice regarding the contempt of court proceedings against him.

Challenging the commission’s authority to hear the case, Imran also raised objections to ECP’s jurisdiction to initiate contempt proceedings against him, however, the commission ruled that it is within the ECP’s jurisdiction to take action on contempt of court.

Imran Khan had accused the ECP of being biased in the foreign funding case following which his counsel had tendered an apology with the commission.  However, the PTI chairman in a TV interview later said that his counsel had tendered an apology in his personal capacity and that he had not apologised.