–Judge hearing Rana Sanaullah’s drug case claims receiving notification via ‘Whatsapp’, leaves proceedings midway
–PML-N says judiciary not independent, questions removal of CNS judge during hearing of Sana’s case
LAHORE: In a rather abrupt move, the Ministry of Law and Justice on Wednesday removed two accountability judges Mushtaq Ilahi and Muhammad Naeem Arshad—the presiding judge in Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice presidents Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz’s cases— and an anti-narcotics judge Masood Arshad, repatriating them to the Lahore High Court.
The judge, hearing the case of PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah over drug possession, stopped midway after he was informed of his removal through a notification dated Aug 26.
“I have just received a Whatsapp message, the Lahore High Court has repatriated me. I cannot lend my expertise to this case anymore,” Judge Masood Arshad said as he excused himself from hearing the case.
However, the Law Ministry denied replacing the judges via Whatsapp and said a proper procedure was followed in this regard.
According to a spokesperson of the ministry, the notification of the transfer of the three judges—Masood Arshad, Naeem Arshad and Mushtaq Ilahi—was issued on Aug 26 through proper channel.
“Some elements are politicising the matter for their personal gains,” it claimed.
The decision leaves a question mark on the independence of the judiciary, said Sana’s lawyer after the hearing was adjourned abruptly.
He said this move was unprecedented. “It seems like the government is trying to decide which judge they want the verdict from,” he alleged.
According to the lawyer, the government decided to replace the judge with a notification after the conclusion of the arguments in the case.
On the other hand, the two accountability judges who were replaced were also seized with the cases of the PML-N leadership.
Though Judge Ilahi was not hearing any high-profile cases, Judge Naeem Arshad was hearing the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case, in which the Sharif family, including former prime minister Nawaz and National Assembly Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif, are implicated. He was also the presiding judge in a money laundering case against Hamza and his brother Suleman. Both Maryam and Hamza are in detention for involvement in the said cases.
The removal of these judges coincides with the disciplinary proceedings against the former accountability judge Arshad Malik, who was removed following allegations by PML-N VP Maryam Nawaz that he had acted under duress in giving a verdict against Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia case.
‘ATTACK ON JUDICIARY’:
The decision didn’t go down well with the PML-N.
Party spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb criticised the development and termed it as a direct attack on the freedom of judiciary.
“Those who had made the case up against Rana Sanaullah could not bring a single piece of evidence against him, so they did this [removed the judge] instead,” she said.
Sana was arrested by the ANF from the Islamabad-Lahore motorway near Sukheki in July when he was traveling from Faisalabad to Lahore. The PML-N leader’s judicial remand was extended by 14 days on Saturday and the senior leader will now be presented in the accountability court on September 7.
Addressing a press conference alongside Marriyum, PML-N senior leader Ahsan Iqbal criticised the move, saying it was tantamount to attack on the judiciary.
“The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is using its power to influence the cases against the PML-N leadership,” he claimed.