Sharifs can come Home, rules Pakistan SC
From correspondents in Islamabad, Pakistan, 07:32 PM IST
Pakistan's Supreme Court Thursday ruled that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother, former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, could return home from exile and take part in politics because they were citizens of Pakistan.
They could return to the country and participate in national political affairs, the court ruled, delivering a big blow to the poll plans of President Pervez Musharraf, who had deposed the elder Sharif in 1999 and sent the family away to Saudi Arabia a few months later in 2000.
A bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, said in a brief judgement that under Article 3 of the constitution no citizen of the country could be stopped from his or her return home.
While Nawaz Sharif has been in exile for nearly eight years now, Shahbaz had made an abortive attempt to return home in 2003. He was put on a return flight and sent out of Pakistan again.
Musharraf is planning to seek re-election to the presidency next month, followed by general elections, both to the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies later this year.
He has been saying that the Sharif brothers left for Saudi Arabia under a deal and could not return.
The Sharif brothers challenged this contention in two identical petitions last month.
There were scenes of joy on the streets here and in many cities following the verdict.
Senior lawyer Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim appeared before the court in the case on behalf of the Sharif brothers. Attorney General Malik Qayyum, Ahmed Raza Kasuri and Ibrahim Satti were the counsels of the government.
The government had submitted copies of the purported deal supposed to have been signed by the two brothers and had sought three weeks from the court to be able to trace the original documents and submit them.
However, earlier in the day, the chief justice said the copies were those of an 'undertaking' signed by only one party and did not amount to an agreement.
The Sharif brothers' lawyers argued that Musharraf had illegally sent them into exile and that their clients had 'an undeniable, unqualified, fundamental right to remain in Pakistan and contest the forthcoming elections'.
The attorney general said the government accepted that it could not prevent the Sharifs from returning but suggested they could face legal action on Pakistani soil.
'Let them come and the law will take its own course,' Qayyum said.
He asked the court to dismiss the petition and not to interfere in an arrangement that involved another state, Saudi Arabia.
At one point, government lawyer Ibrahim Satti drew the judges' ire for suggesting that Sharif's rights were still limited by a state of emergency declared back in 1998.
Qayyum hastily asked for an adjournment and came back with a denial that any emergency powers were in force. 'The country is not under any emergency and all the citizens have full, fundamental rights available to them under the constitution,' he said.
Sharifs' counsel Ibrahim told the court that coming back home is a fundamental right of every citizen under the constitution.
The constitution guarantees freedom to every citizen and if the Sharif brothers were not allowed to return, the elections in their absence may be called free but not fair, Ibrahim said in his arguments.