Pakistan's imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday filed a petition in the Lahore High Court (LHC) challenging his five-year disqualification by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ahead of the general elections scheduled on February 8, 2024. Imran was disqualified from holding office on August 8 following his conviction and imprisonment in the Toshakhana corruption case.
The petition to overturn ECP's disqualification was filed by Imran's lawyers Gohar Ali Khan and Ali Zafar, which called for declaring the electoral watchdog's August notification as "unlawful, illegal and unconstitutional." They urged the LHC to suspend ECP’s notification till the final disposal of the case, reported Dawn.
“In the meanwhile, this court may kindly be pleased to suspend the operation of impugned notification dated August 8, 2023, till final disposal of the titled petition,” the petition submitted to LHC said, accusing the ECP of taking "illegal action" in haste to disqualify the former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman from contesting the general elections.
Attempt to prevent Imran from contesting polls: Imran
Imran's petition also claimed that the disqualification notification without issuing any notice to the petitioner or without hearing the petitioner’s side, terming it a violation of justice. “It only demonstrates the undue and unlawful haste and zeal of the respondent (ECP) to eliminate the petitioner (Imran) and his political party from the forthcoming general elections,” it read.
According to Zafar, Imran was not a member of the National Assembly on August 8, when the notification was issued, and therefore he cannot be disqualified from holding membership of the National Assembly preemptively. "The notification has been issued with malafide intention and shows the undue and unlawful haste and zeal of ECP to oust and eliminate Khan and his political party from taking part in the forthcoming general elections," he said.
"By the illegal impugned notification, the fundamental rights of the petitioner to contest elections are being denied," the plea filed in the LHC added.
Why was Imran Khan disqualified?
The former Pakistan PM was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison by a trial court in Islamabad in the Toshakhana corruption case, for concealing details of the gifts he had received during his tenure as premier. The court found him guilty of "corrupt practices by hiding the benefits he accrued from the national exchequer willfully and intentionally".
“He cheated while providing information about gifts he obtained from Toshakhana which later proved to be false and inaccurate. His dishonesty has been established beyond doubt,” the court order had said.
Subsequently, the ECP disqualified the then-PTI chairman for five years after his conviction and arrest in the case. The ECP cited the trial court’s order in its August 8 notification and declared Imran disqualified under Article 63(1h) of the Constitution, read with Section 232 of the Elections Act, 2017.
“As a consequence, Mr Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi has become disqualified under Article 63(1)(h) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan read with Section 232 of the Elections Act,2017,” the notification said. However, it is important to note that the Islamabad High Court (IHC) suspended Imran's Toshakhana conviction on August 29.
However, troubles did not end for the ex-PM as he was arrested again in the cipher case for allegedly leaking state secrets and violating the laws of the country. He has been imprisoned at the high-security Adiala prison in Rawalpindi since September 26, with over 150 cases against him since his ouster from power in 2022.
Thursday's development came after the IHC rejected Imran’s application on Monday to withdraw his appeal against disqualification in the Toshakhana reference to enable him to pursue the matter in the LHC.
(with inputs from PTI)