Media barred from Al-Azizia hearing

ISLAMABAD: Members of the media were not allowed on Monday to enter in an accountability court when the jailed ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif was produced before the court from jail to face Al-Azizia reference for the first time since his conviction in the Avenfield Apartments reference.

Videos and images of the three-time form PM being transported to the accountability court from Adiala jail in an armoured vehicle circulated on social media and television channels early in the morning as he was produced before the court.

In the last 11 months, journalists have been allowed to cover the trial with only their pens and papers and sans mobile phones or recording devices.

On Monday, the extra restrictions came on the pretext of “security concerns” for a ‘prisoner’ who has already attended over 80 hearings along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Captain (retd) Safdar. Previously, the media men were allowed to, at least, enter into the premise of the Federal Judicial Complex (FJC) where the accountability courts are located but on Monday, they were kept outside the FJC.

As the media officials, lawyers, political workers were protesting against the restriction imposed by the district administration with the consent of the court, a police officer’s gun went off outside the central gate near media personnel.

Meanwhile, the Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Arshad Malik continued proceedings behind closed doors where Sharif, head of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), Wajid Zia, defence counsel, NAB’s prosecution and a large number of security officials in uniform and plain clothes were present.

A list of the reporters was sent to the judge with the request to continue with the previous SOPs wherein roughly 20 reporters of different organisations would get entry into the courtroom and cover the trial, but he returned it after approving only five names.

The journalists unanimously decided not to send anyone and continued with their protest. Interestingly, it emerged that NAB had opposed journalists’ entry in the courtroom during proceedings.

Later, in a meeting with the judge, reporters expressed their concerns and discussed SOPs for entry in the courtroom as per the previous routine. The judge remarked that he would go through the previous SOPs and expressed his hope that there won’t be any hurdle for reporters on the next date of hearing – August 15.

The court has once again summoned Sharif and Zia. Apart from them, the investigation officer of Al-Azizia reference has also been directed to appear before the court for recording his statement.

During court proceedings, Zaafir Khan Tareen, an associate of the defence counsel Khawaja Haris informed the court that he would not be able to attend proceedings as the Sharifs’ petitions seeking the

suspension of the Avenfield reference were already fixed before the Islamabad High Court. He also said that he was unable to complete cross-examination of Zia in the Al-Azizia reference on Monday.

On July 6, another Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Bashir convicted Sharif, Maryam and Safdar and awarded sentences of 10 years, seven years and two years, respectively, while imposing heavy fines on father and daughter. Later on, IHC transferred the pending reference to Judge Malik on Sharif’s application.

Surprisingly, as the incarcerated quaid of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) was brought before the court for the first time, no party workers were to be seen around the court premises. Only a handful of party leaders, including Pervaiz Rashid, Barrister Zafarullah, Tariq Fatemi, Siddiqul Farooq, Chaudhry Tanvir, Asif Kirmani, were present.

Initially, they were also barred from entering the FJC, but later they were allowed to attend proceedings where they met Sharif. In his media talk, Rashid said that hearing should have been conducted in an open court as opposed to the one today.

He said the ban on media officials’ entry was raised before the court. He said all party officials and workers were performing their due roles at different forums and no one was sitting idle.

“My meeting with Mian Sb today was to the extent that we both were under the same roof,” Rashid said, adding they couldn’t discuss much because of the on-going court proceeding. He said Sharif was immediately taken back to jail after the hearing ended.

The Express Tribune