Pakistan’s Supreme Court served a contempt notice on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan on Wednesday evening giving rise to fears of fresh political uncertainty.
In recent days, Khan, a member of the National Assembly and whose party leads the provincial government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, has criticized the court for moving the presidential election originally scheduled for Aug. 6 forward to July 30 at the urging of the ruling party at the center, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), without a proper hearing or due process.
Given Khan’s role as one of the court’s most blindly vociferous defenders in the past, the criticism has been noteworthy. The former cricketer has accused both the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of Pakistan, which conducted the May 11 general elections borrowing officers from the judiciary, of “shameful” complicity in Pakistan’s “most rigged elections.”
Hours ahead of the court’s notice to Khan being made public, Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim resigned his post as the country’s chief election commissioner for unspecified reasons. Opposition parties welcomed his resignation.
With the contempt notice on Khan and Ebrahim’s resignation, the presidential election has become controversial. Some lawmakers in the Pakistan Peoples Party, which led the previous federal government and whose members allege a nexus between the Supreme Court of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the PMLN, say the election could even be challenged in court. (While the PPP and its allies boycotted the election, which saw PMLN’s Mamnoon Hussain win with a comfortable majority, Khan’s PTI lent it legitimacy by pitching its own candidate.)
Shortly after the contempt notice, Khan’s supporters tore into the chief justice on social media, threatening to take to the streets against a judiciary they view as beholden to the PMLN. On cable talk shows, some PTI representatives objected to the court’s action by citing other politicians (like the PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan) and journalists (like Mubasher Lucman) whose war words the court had, they claimed, chosen not to react to. Other PTI talking heads brought up accusations of corruption against the chief justice’s son Arsalan Iftikhar Chaudhry, and vowed that Khan would stand his ground in court.
Khan, who has been summoned by the court on Friday, will likely issue an unconditional apology. Otherwise, he could face up to six months in prison.
The showdown between Khan and the court is vindication in some ways for the PPP, which was haunted by a judiciary in overdrive during most of its term in office. Appearing to be sympathetic, PPP reps were quick to remind cable news audiences on Wednesday evening that Khan had demanded the “immediate resignation” of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani when he faced contempt-of-court charges last year. (Gilani was sacked by the court in June last year.)
The text of the Supreme Court’s notice to Khan is reproduced below:
The Honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr. Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry took notice on the note of [the] Registrar based on press clippings of different newspapers containing the speeches/remarks of the Chairman, PTI, Mr. Imran Khan. These remarks are fairly critical and very derogatory as regards the judiciary/judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The note further states that as per details, while holding [a] press conference on July 26, 2013, he stated that the role of [the] judiciary and Election Commission of Pakistan is shameful in the conduct of general elections; that the elections were rigged, due to [the] role played by these two institutions. He added that the general elections were the worst in terms of rigging and mismanagement. He went on to state that he wants to ensure that no such like shameful elections are held in the future. He also stated that the PTI has accepted [the] election results, but not election rigging.
On July 29, 2013, also, he expressed lack of trust in the judiciary and alleged that the judiciary/Supreme Court have a hand in rigging the recent elections. On July 30, 2013, again, he stated that judicial officers acting as Returning-Officers remained the most controversial in [the] general elections. Further, that the double standards of the judiciary have come to surface as his candidates were knocked down on technical grounds.
It is hard to understand the outburst of [the] Chairman, PTI, for the unwarranted criticism and making highly objectionable, indeed derogatory statements, against the judiciary and judges of the Supreme Court. Indeed, he has used contemptuous and derogatory language against the Supreme Court and its judges. Fair comments can be made on judicial verdicts but it is impermissible to scandalize/ridicule the court or its judges. His statements are aimed at inter alia shaking public faith/confidence in the administration of justice and undermining the dignity/prestige of the court, thereby tending to bring the court/judges into hatred, ridicule or contempt. Article 204 of the Constitution read with the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003, indeed provide for punishment for contempt of court.
After going through the contents of the above note of [the] Registrar, Honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr. Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry passed the following order:
“Prima facie, it seems that [Imran Khan] has started a deliberate campaign to scandalize the court and bring judges into hatred, ridicule or contempt. Thus, his above acts call for action for contempt of court under Article 204 of the Constitution read with Section 3 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003. Therefore, notice be issued to him to appear on Aug. 2, 2013, and explain as to why proceedings as envisaged by [the] above provisions of the Constitution and law be not initiated against him. Notice be also issued to the learned Attorney-General for Pakistan.”