Pakistani judges say intelligence agency threatened them over Imran Khan – The Guardian

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Claims by senior Pakistani judges that the intelligence agencies put pressure on them in cases involving the former prime minister Imran Khan have reached the country’s supreme court, following the publication of an unprecedented letter that has created a storm in Pakistan.

The letter from the six high court judges alleged the abduction of family members, torture, installation of cameras in their bedrooms and threats from the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).

In one case the judges said they were forced to hear an appeal against Khan even after the majority of judges had decided it was not maintainable.

“Considerable pressure was brought to bear on the judges who had opined that the petition was not maintainable, by operatives of the ISI, through friends and relatives of these judges. Fearing for their security, they sought additional protection for their homes. One of the judges had to be admitted in a hospital due to high blood pressure caused by stress,” the letter claimed.

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It alleged the brother-in-law of one judge was abducted by “individuals who claimed to be operatives of the ISI” and “tortured into making false allegations”.

Khan was removed from office in a confidence vote in April 2022, and has since faced arrest and charges of corruption, selling state gifts, leaking state secrets and was convicted in a multitude of cases with sentences ranging from 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment. He was charged in more than 100 cases and has been in prison since August. Khan has denied all charges and claimed his treatment is politically motivated, accusing Pakistan’s powerful military chief of harbouring a “personal grudge” against him. The military has denied his claims.

At the opening of the supreme court hearing on Wednesday, the chief justice Qazi Faez Isa said he had zero tolerance for challenges to the independence of the judiciary. Supreme court justice Athar Minallah said the letter addressed what has been happening in Pakistan for the last 76 years. “We can’t bury our heads like ostrich in the sands,” he said.

Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari, Khan’s adviser on international media and affairs, said that the letter written from the judges made it evident that the courts have been under duress for at least the past two years.

“This is not the first time nor will it be the last that the military establishment and ‘operatives’ have pressured desired verdicts from our courts. However, this time around the tactics used were appalling, from planting cameras in judges’ bedrooms to threats on them and family members,” said Bukhari.

The former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said it was unprecedented in Pakistan’s history for senior serving judges to go public on claims of intelligence agency interference.

“It is a test case for the supreme court as the high court judges are looking for justice and guidance from the supreme judicial council to end the interference of agencies.”

The judges noted in the letter that they had informed high court and supreme court chief justices in the past about the threats, and a military general in ISI had assured the chief justice of Islamabad high court (IHC) last May that “no official from ISI will approach judges of the IHC”. It claimed that interference from the intelligence operatives continued, however.

The letter came a week after the supreme court had ruled in favour of a high court judge, Shaukat Siddiqui, who was removed from the office when he publicly alleged that ISI operatives were involved in political engineering and manipulating decisions in the high court. The prime minister at the time was Khan.

Hasnaat Malik, an analyst, said that Khan’s own record in office was not good and he had sided with the military establishment, but at the moment, Khan and his party were facing the brunt of its pressure.

“We have seen in the past judges facing pressure from the operatives for political engineering. But this new episode of the letter is primarily focused against Khan and his party. It is the case for the supreme court and chief justice to decide the future of judiciary,” he said.

Intelligence officials have rejected the letter’s claims. “The accusations made by the honourable judges of IHC are frivolous in nature and out of context. The cases against the former prime minister Imran Khan are purely legal and have nothing to do with law enforcement agencies,” an official said.

“The allegations about abduction of the brother-in-law are also mere fabrications and are levelled without any evidence. As the matter is being adjudicated by the supreme court and being telecasted on national media, all the aspects will remain in public without any bias. Intelligence officials expect a free and fair hearing of the case which must be reaching to its logical conclusion.”

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