Open trial with a caveat


The caretaker federal cabinet’s about-face to allow the open trial of Nawaz Sharif and others in the Al Azizia and Flagship references is a positive development. Information and Law Minister Ali Zafar maintains that the previous closed trial decision was a “one-off decision” based on a request from NAB, and that Sharif has the right to a fair trial which was only possible in an open court. Moments later though, he said NAB would still be within its rights to request the trial to be shifted again if it can show any legitimate security concerns.

Just a day later, however, new questions of fairness arose after the Sharifs were allegedly “unilaterally denied” permission to see their lawyers just hours before a scheduled meeting.  This does not bode well if the government wants to convince the world, including the Sharifs’ supporters, of the legitimacy of the trial of the man who has been premier for a total of over nine years in three terms – making him by far the longest-serving prime minister of Pakistan.

Despite the continuing criticism of the conditions of the Sharifs’ cells, they have, however, been shown some leniency by jail authorities, with Maryam being allowed to meet Sharif and her husband, Captain (retd) Safdar, on Sunday. Plans are also afoot to shift Maryam to the Sihala Rest House, ostensibly due to threats to her life. It remains unclear whether these threats are from other inmates or from elsewhere. Maryam had previously refused a ‘better class’ prison cell of the sort her father has availed, and chose to stay among the general population in the women’s wing of the prison. Staying among the general population may have helped Maryam’s public image by making her come across as a woman of the people. Moving her may be seen as an effort to crack that nut, since the conditions would be more akin to house arrest.

Yet, the biggest problem may be that flip-flops in the efforts to ensure some semblance of a fair trial have left the government looking like a house divided.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2018.

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    Original news : https://tribune.com.pk/story/1762284/6-open-trial-caveat/