IHC to hear petition against issuance of diplomatic passport to Nawaz Sharif

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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) was moved on Friday to prevent the expected issuance of a diplomatic passport to PML-N supremo and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and direct the relevant authorities to immediately arrest him upon his return to Pakistan from London.

A lawyer, Advocate Naeem Haider Panjutha, filed a petition in the IHC on Thursday, referring to media reports that said Nawaz was being issued a diplomatic passport on the instructions of newly elected PM Shehbaz. He specified that the instructions for the issuance of the diplomatic passport were given to the interior and foreign affairs secretaries.

The petitioner contended that as Nawaz was "a court absconder who was convicted by learned NAB (National Accountability Bureau) Court for corruption ... it is violative of law, a mockery of the justice system and disgrace to the nation if a diplomatic passport is issued to a convict".

The "issuance of a diplomatic passport to a convict is tantamount to bestowing respect, state protocols and dignity to a convict and if the convict is a court absconder it becomes a disgrace to the entire judicial system of the country," he said, adding the act was also "against the spirit of the Constitution and against the fundamental rights whereby it has been guaranteed to every citizen that they will be treated equally".

Moreover, the petition stated, the country's courts had held that a fugitive would lose all rights a normal person was entitled to, adding that Article 25 of the Constitution had set clear standards against discrimination against citizens.

"And all the ordinary citizens will be discriminated if a convict is issued a diplomatic passport which has so many privileges and immunities, far more than the ordinary passport."

The petitioner further argued that the "illegal and unlawful" act of the interior and foreign affairs secretaries of issuing a diplomatic passport to a convict and court absconder "is not sustainable in the eyes of law".

"The honorable superior courts have held in a number of cases that public servants are not duty-bound to implement or obey the illegal directions of the superiors and whoever acts illegal just to please a superior will solely be responsible for that illegal act."

Advocate Panjutha highlighted that diplomatic passports were issued to the heads of states, highest officials and dignitaries, and that the holders of these passports enjoyed certain immunities and priviliges outlined in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961.

In this connection, he also cited Passport Rules 2021, which, he said, limit the issuance of diplomatic passports to a certain class of state officials so long as they held office. Moreover, he said, according to the rules, persons entitled to get the passport are to apply for the same with the relevant authority and furnish three copies of their photographs.

"No authority other than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will, in any circumstances, issue authorisation for diplomatic passports," the petitioner said, adding that the process for the issuance of the passport had not been followed in Nawaz's case.

The process, he said, "cannot be exempted or bypassed and ignored merely on the ground that the applicant is a brother of the prime minister".

He also pointed out that Nawaz had passed "derogatory remarks against the serving military and judicial officials" at public rallies, which caused "disgrace, disrespect, injury and insult" to the Pakistan Army and judiciary.

"It is also pertinent to mention that action is yet to be taken by the law enforcement agencies for the remarks mentioned above," he added.

Advocate Panjutha underlined that it was mandatory for all convicts to surrender before the law.

Nawaz, on the other hand, had "yet to surrender before the law", while "the federal government is hurriedly trying to issue [a] diplomatic passport to him", he claimed.

He prayed the court to prevent the issuance of a diplomatic passport to Nawaz, direct the Establishment Division secretary to arrest him immediately upon his arrival in Pakistan and produce him before a court.

"During the pendency of this petition, [a] diplomatic passport shall not be issued to" Nawaz, the petitioner requested.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah will hear the petition on April 18.

Nawaz, who is convicted in a corruption case, has been living in London on the pretext of ill health since November 2019, when the Lahore High Court had allowed him to leave the country for four weeks for medical treatment after Shehbaz Sharif, his younger brother and the incumbent prime minister, gave an undertaking that the senior Sharif would return within the stipulated time. Later, Nawaz sought extensions to prolong his stay in London on medical grounds.

In August last year, Nawaz had filed an appeal with the British Immigration Tribunal after the Home Department refused to extend his stay in the country on “medical grounds” any further.

Nawaz can legally remain in the UK till the tribunal issues its decision on his plea for his stay in the country. His passport had expired in February 2021.

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