By Mubasher Bukhari
LAHORE, Pakistan, Oct 8 (Reuters) – Two former prime ministers of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, facing allegations of treason appeared before a court along with a prominent journalist on Monday in a hearing to determine whether the case should go to trial.
The hearing was adjourned until Oct. 22.
The case related to an interview Sharif gave to the English daily Dawn in which he was quoted as suggesting the Pakistani state played a role in the militant attack on the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008.
India has repeatedly accused Pakistan intelligence agency of helping the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group carry out the attack. Pakistan has denied any state involvement, but its inaction against LeT leaders remains a major stumbling block to improving relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Dawn assistant editor Cyril Almeida, who conducted the interview, had faced arrest if he failed to appear before the court and had been barred from leaving the country. Both the arrest orders and travel restrictions were removed on Monday.
“The court removed his name from the (exit control list), withdrew his arrest warrant and directed us to submit a reply on Oct. 22,” Almeida’s lawyer Ahmad Rauf told Reuters, while surrounded by activists protesting threats to media freedom in Pakistan.
Sharif was removed from office last year by the Supreme Court over corruption allegation and was sentenced earlier this year to 10 years in prison. Abbasi replaced his party leader as prime minister before an election earlier this year brought former cricket star Imran Khan to power.
Sharif has denied wrongdoing and accused the military of using the courts to orchestrate his removal and destabilise his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party to pave the way for Khan’s election victory. Both the military and Khan deny that.
The inclusion of Almeida in the treason complaint has heightened concern over media freedom in Pakistan.
A report released by the Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists last month said the military had established “lines of control” to pressure the media and journalists in Pakistan, and those who pushed back faced arrest, intimidation, and violence.
The military, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its history, denies any pressure on the media. (Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)