Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz has made an explosive claim that a judge of an accountability court, who had sentenced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in jail in a graft case, was “pressurised and blackmailed.” However, the judge has rubbished her allegation.
Experts say the video containing the judge’s “confession” during his conversation with a “sympathizer” of the PML-N, which was screened during a hurriedly-called press conference at the party’s provincial headquarters in Model Town, will not benefit the former prime minister. They say if the video had been genuine, she had no need to talk to the media. She would have gone straight to the Islamabad High Court and presented “concrete” evidence before it to get relief for her father.
If Maryam Nawaz had found solid evidence to prove her father’s innocence, he would not have sought his release on medical grounds in the court. Another accountability court has jailed Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Captain (r) Muhammad Safdar for 10, seven and one year respectively in the Avenfield case. However, the Islamabad High Court suspended the sentences of Maryam and her husband. She was also accused of presenting forged documents in the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the case. The forgery case makes her position weak in the court. However, forensic audit of the video will ascertain its veracity and it should be conducted under the supervision of the court, rather than the government, to clear any doubt about it. If proved wrong, the video will boomerang and harm her and the party.
Accompanied by PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, ex-Premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pervaiz Rashid, Khwaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal and Rana Tanvir, Maryam Nawaz told the press conference that it was the case of “Man proposes, God disposes”. Claiming that the judge had been “blackmailed” into convicting the former prime minister, she said: “Allah Almighty has listened to our prayers, as Mian sahib had left his matter to Him after failing to get justice. It is nothing short of a miracle, as divine help came in the form of the judge who had awarded imprisonment to him, confessing that injustice has been done against an innocent man and he was forced to do so.” A video purported to be about the conversation between Accountability Court Judge Arshad Malik and PML-N activist Nasir Butt was played on a screen projector at the press conference in which the judge appeared to say he had handed down seven-year imprisonment to Nawaz Sharif in the Al Azizia Mills case under “immense pressure from hidden hands”. She claimed the judge had called the PML-N activist to his residence to share his ordeal related to her father’s conviction. She said the judge had told Nasir Butt that he was having “nightmares after being forced to convict an innocent Nawaz Sharif. She claimed some people had met the judge when her father was being tried in his court and they showed him an objectionable video of him that they had recorded some time ago. Quoting the judge, she said he had so much pressure that he had reached a breaking point and gave in to their demand. “He had one choice either to accept their demand or commit suicide,” she added.
However, the judge has rubbished the allegation of being blackmailed into convicting Nawaz Sharif in the Al Azizia reference. Judge Arshad Malik termed the video fabricated and false and said it was made by twisting his conversations on different occasions. In an official press release, Judge Arshad Malik also demanded legal action against those behind the move. He admitted that he had long acquaintance with Nasir Butt, a close aide to former Premier Nawaz Sharif, as both hailed from Rawalpindi. “The video tape showed in Maryam’s press conference was not only contrary to the facts but also an attempt to hatch a conspiracy to present conversations made on different occasions by twisting them out of context,” he said. He also accused the Sharif family of threatening him during the trial of the former prime minister. “During hearings of the case, representatives of Nawaz Sharif met me and tried to bribe me several times. They also threatened me with dire consequences if I do not cooperate,” he said, adding that he had rejected the temptation and threats. He said if he had decided the Nawaz Sharif case under pressure, he would not have acquitted him in one case and found him guilty in the other. “On the basis of justice and evidence, I convicted Nawaz Sharif in the Al Azizia case and acquitted him in the Flagship case,” he added. However, Maryam alleged that the judge might have issued his latest statement, too, under pressure.
Besides targeting the judiciary, Maryam Nawaz also accused the establishment of bringing Prime Minister Imran Khan to power. It was the same narrative that was launched by her father when the Supreme Court started hearing his case. After he was disqualified by the court, his daughter advanced his narrative. Nawaz Sharif started threatening the establishment and the judiciary with slogans of “revolution” to “protect the sanctity of votes” after his disqualification. He started blaming national institutions and instigating people to rise up against them.
Maryam’s new claim has also come at a time when her party faces disintegration after 15 MPAs of the PML-N called on Prime Minister Imran Khan few weeks ago and there are strong rumours of the emergence of a “forward bloc” of 37 MPAs of her party in the Punjab Assembly. There are also reports of PML-N defections in the National Assembly. Her hostile posture could aim to stop defections in the party and create an impression that the Sharif family is united. She kept quiet for some time in the hope of getting relief for her father. It appears she has lost all hopes.