Shahzad Ahmad

LAHORE - The Lahore High Court will take up today a writ petition seeking initiation of treason proceedings against former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as well as a journalist, and hear arguments from the petitioner’s counsel on its maintainability.

A three-member LHC bench in the last hearing had sought written replies from the ex-premiers and journalist Cyril Almeida while directing the petitioner’s counsel Azhar Siddiq to advance arguments on maintainability of the petition on the next hearing (today).

It merits mentioning here that the Islamabad High Court had last month dismissed as non-maintainable a petition seeking trial of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif on the same high treason charge for his interviews relating to the trial of suspects in the Mumbai attack case.

The IHC had declared that it lacked jurisdiction to direct the federal government to initiate high treason proceedings against any person.

In its order on the petition, the IHC had declared: “The High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973, prescribes a procedure for initiation of proceedings over high treason. This court [IHC] is bereft of the jurisdiction to direct the federal government to initiate proceedings for high treason.”

Article 6 says: “Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance the Constitution by use of force or show force or by any other unconstitutional means, shall be guilty of high treason. The clause 2 of the Article 6 says, “Any person aiding or abetting [or collaborating] the acts mentioned in clause (1) shall likewise be guilty of high treason.” Its third clause says, “Parliament shall by law provide for the punishment of persons found guilty of high treason.”

The High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973 provides procedure for proceedings for high treason. It says, “No court shall take cognizance of an offence punishable under this act except upon a complaint in writing made by a person authorised by the federal government in this behalf.” The punishment for high treason is death or lifetime imprisonment, according to the act.

However, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will appear before the court while ex-PM Nawaz Sharif will decide whether he is to appear before the LHC or an accountability court today. Meanwhile, the three-member bench had summoned the Attorney General of Pakistan who had been represented by Deputy Attorney General Mian Tariq. Mr Tariq had said the matter was related to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) when Justice Jehangir, one of the members of the LHC, had asked what action the government had taken with regard to the Article 6. On this, the judge had said Pemra’s job is to prevent broadcasts of speech.

Saying that as the matter pertains to the Article 6, the court had also directed the defence ministry secretary to submit a report and parawise comments on the accusations contained in the petition. The bench also sought written reply from the former prime ministers and journalist Cyril Almeida.