The Islamabad High Court (IHC) was moved on Friday to stop the new government from issuing a diplomatic passport to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and direct the authorities to immediately arrest him upon his return to Pakistan from London.
After the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president and Nawaz’s younger brother Shehbaz Sharif was elected the prime minister, there were reports that the Ministry of Interior has been directed to renew the passports of Nawaz Sharif and his brother-in-law Ishaq Dar.
Nawaz’s passport expired in February this year and the previous Imran Khan-led government refused to renew his passport.
Several corruption cases had been launched by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government against 72-year-old Nawaz since his ouster from office by the Supreme Court in July 2017 in the Panama Papers case.
The three-time former premier 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, the new prime minister, gave an undertaking that he would return within the stipulated time. Later, Nawaz sought extensions to prolong his stay in London on medical grounds.
A lawyer, Naeem Haider Panjutha, filed a petition in the IHC, referring to media reports that Nawaz could be issued a diplomatic passport on the instructions of the newly elected prime minister. He claimed that the instructions for the issuance of the diplomatic passport have been given to the interior and foreign affairs secretaries, the Dawn newspaper reported.
The petitioner said that Nawaz is a proclaimed offender and the government should not issue a diplomatic passport to him. He prayed to the court that Nawaz Sharif should be arrested upon his arrival.
The petitioner requested the court to hear the case on Friday, however, Chief Justice Athar Minallah approved the petition for hearing on April 18, the report said.
The petitioner contended that as Nawaz Sharif 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 petition stated that 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 against if a convict is issued a diplomatic passport which has so many privileges and immunities, far more than the ordinary passport,” it said.
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 privileges 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”.
In August last year, Nawaz Sharif 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 Sharif 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.