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Court reserves verdict on Imran’s bail in May 9 riot cases

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LAHORE: An anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Saturday reserved its verdict on pre-arrest bail petitions of PTI founding chairman Imran Khan in three cases related to the May 9 riots. The prosecution equated last year’s protests to the United States Capitol Hill attacks, while the defence rejected allegations of conspiracy.

During the final arguments, Barrister Salman Safdar, Mr Khan’s counsel, stated that his client had been denied justice for a year. Judge Khalid Arshad noted that there had been delays due to various reasons, including some caused by the petitioner’s counsel, and pointed out that the Lahore High Court had directed the trial court to mark the suspect’s attendance via video link from jail.

The judge said the court would make a final attempt to arrange Imran Khan’s attendance via video link.

A prosecutor confirmed that Mr Khan was imprisoned in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, as confirmed by jail authorities via WhatsApp. The judge then instructed the petitioner’s counsel to present his arguments in the Jinnah House attack case.

Barrister Safdar argued that on May 9, 2023, Imran Khan sought bail in the Al-Qadir Trust case at the Islamabad High Court when he was illegally arrested. He stated that the events of May 9 were a reaction to Mr Khan’s arrest and that Mr Khan only learned about the attacks on state institutions when presented in the Supreme Court. He emphasised that Imran Khan condemned the May 9 attacks before the Supreme Court and the IHC.

The counsel highlighted that the Supreme Court had declared Mr Khan’s arrest and physical remand illegal on May 11, and that Mr Khan had expressed ignorance of the May 9 incidents, as he was in custody at the time.

When Judge Arshad asked who disrupted law and order before May 9, the lawyer responded, “Those who illegally detained Imran Khan.”

Barrister Safdar noted that Imran Khan, a 71-year-old former premier with no criminal record, had thousands of politically motivated charges against him. He argued that habitual criminals usually commit their first crime at 17, not 71.

The counsel argued that there was no witness to prove that Mr Khan incited violence and questioned when he could have conspired, given his custody on May 9 and release on May 11. He mentioned that Mr Khan condemned the protests and urged his supporters to refrain from violence after his release.

Judge Arshad observed that the prosecution’s record mentioned a conspiracy hatched in a Zoom meeting at Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence in Lahore, including evidence from Pemra and social media speeches by PTI leaders. Prosecutor Rana Azhar stated that separate conspiracies were plotted in Zoom and Zaman Park meetings and that witnesses had confirmed both.

Special Prosecutor Rana Abdul Jabbar added that a video of Imran Khan was released on social media before he left for the Islamabad court, in which Mr Khan claimed to be fighting for ‘haqeeqi azadi’ (real freedom).

“This self-proclaimed Quaid-i-Azam and Allama Iqbal incited the attack on Jinnah House,” the special prosecutor said, referring to Mr Khan.

The PTI lawyers in the courtroom reacted angrily to the prosecutor’s remarks, with Barrister Safdar urging the prosecutor to focus on the case. Judge Arshad also reminded the prosecution to stick to relevant points.

Mr Jabbar argued that in crowd crimes, every individual in the crowd is treated as an accomplice, including those guiding remotely via modern communication tools. He insisted that all participants and facilitators in the Jinnah House attack were guilty.

Judge Arshad observed that facilitators are often not present at crime scenes. The special prosecutor urged the court to dismiss Mr Khan’s bail petitions, likening the Jinnah House attack to the Capitol Hill incident.

Barrister Safdar questioned why police officials with prior knowledge of the alleged conspiracy remained silent. He argued that Mr Khan’s interim bail has become secondary “as this is now a case for acquittal”.

The judge announced that the verdict on the bail petitions would be delivered on July 9.