New Delhi: Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has long been accused of interfering in judicial matters for favourable verdicts and influencing media houses to shape public opinion.
In the latest such incident, a former judge of the Islamabad High Court, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, has alleged that ISI Director General Lt Gen. Faiz Hameed and other military officers visited his residence to try and “manipulate” case proceedings back in 2018.
Two of these cases pertained to the conviction of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif in corruption cases and the acquittal of the founder and CEO of BOL News channel in 2018.
Siddiqui made the accusations Tuesday during a hearing before the Supreme Court against his removal from office. Hearing his plea, Justice Umar Ata Bandial said the former judge should have reported the meetings with the then Supreme Court chief justice as well as the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court at the time.
Siddiqui was removed from office in October 2018, on the recommendations of the Supreme Judicial Council, for “displaying a conduct unbecoming of a judge”. This was after he delivered a speech at the District Bar Association, Rawalpindi, on 21 July 2018 where he accused security agencies of “meddling” in judicial affairs.
During the hearing Tuesday, Siddiqui’s lawyer denied his client was maintaining ties with Army officers and read out his reply to such claims. Salahuddin Ahmed, president of the Sindh High Court Bar Association, tweeted pictures of the reply Tuesday.
In Justice Shaukat Siddiqui’s case before the Supreme Court today, his lawyer Hamid Khan read out the following written reply by Siddiqui about 4 military officers who allegedly tried to manipulate case proceedings in the Islamabad High Court! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/4bdMS7xZVG
— Salahuddin Ahmed (@SalAhmedPK) June 8, 2021
According to Lt Gen. Vinod Bhatia (retd), India’s former director general of military operations, this is not new.
“An amendment bill was passed in Pakistan in April this year mandating that anyone who criticises the Army may face imprisonment of two years, (or) a fine of Rs 5,00,000, or both. That sums up the political environment and how far the Army is willing to go to clamp down on free speech,” he told ThePrint.
Calling it a “smart coup”, Bhatia explained that the Pakistan Army “rules by proxy but maintains a democratic government for the world to see”.
In October 2020, the Pakistan Army landed in hot water after the Sindh province claimed the military “abducted” its chief inspector and forced him to sign an arrest warrant of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law.
Allegations that ISI officers made home visits
In his statement to the apex court, Siddiqui alleged that ISI Brigadier Irfan Ramay visited his home in June 2018 and asked him to review his order to remove encroachments from a portion of the road in front of the ISI headquarters. “On my refusal, he showed annoyance,” Siddiqui said, adding that he had some guests over in his house when the visit took place.
Siddiqui claimed that Hameed, the incumbent ISI chief who was DG, counter intelligence, at ISI at the time, later visited his home on two occasions.
According to him, Hameed made the first visit to request “modification” of his order regarding ISI headquarters. “I explained to him that being a judge, I am not supposed to go beyond my order…and his establishment has to respect and implement the same unless set aside or modified by the honourable Supreme Court,” Siddiqui stated.
Hameed then asked about the appeals before the Islamabad High Court regarding the conviction of former PM Nawaz Sharif, claimed the former judge.
At the time, Sharif had challenged a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court’s ruling that sentenced him to 10 years in prison in one of the three corruption cases against him in the Panama Papers scandal.
Explaining that ISI also tried to manipulate the formation of benches in high courts, Siddiqui claimed that Hameed indicated the chief justice of Islamabad HC was likely to resign due to health issues and Siddiqui could take his place in September 2018.
On 18 July 2018, the Islamabad HC ordered that Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law be released on bail as they appeal convictions on corruption charges.
This prompted Hameed’s second visit, claimed Siddiqui, a day after the verdict. Hameed allegedly said Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa “showed great annoyance and displeasure on his inability to handle a Judge of the High Court”, and told him to find out “what the judge wants”.
Siddiqui said he replied that he needed nothing except that all organs of the state and the respective departments of the executive should remain within the limits prescribed by the Constitution and the law of the land.
Hameed further said they wanted an assurance that Sharif’s bail plea was not taken up before the 2018 general election, according to Siddiqui.
‘BOL network was an ISI project’
In his statement to the Supreme Court, the former judge alleged that ISI Brigadier Faisal Merawat tried to influence the acquittal of BOL News CEO Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh “by describing BOL as a project of ISI”.
In May 2015, The New York Times published an article by its correspondent Declan Walsh revealing that Axact, the parent company of BOL News, was making tens of millions of dollars a year selling fake degrees and diplomas online. Shaikh, the chief executive and one of the directors of the company, was arrested and later acquitted.
Pervaizul Qadir Memon, the judge hearing Shaikh’s case, was removed from service in 2018 for acquitting the media mogul upon receiving a bribe.