ISLAMABAD: Former premier Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were arrested by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) officials upon their arrival to Pakistan in Lahore on Friday night, and subsequently whisked to Islamabad on a chartered flight.The Islamabad chief commissioner had meanwhile issued a notification declaring the Sihala Police Training College Rest House in the capital city “as sub-jail for keeping the convicted prisoner Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, ex-prime minister, and Ms. Mariam Nawaz, who have been arrested by NAB authorities, with immediate effect and till further orders.” However, there was some confusion over whether they would both be shifted to the Sihala rest house, the Central Jail in Adiyala, Rawalpindi, or be separated from each other.Meanwhile, a NAB prosecution team had approached the accountability courts seeking an exemption for Nawaz and Maryam’s appearance before the court. NAB Additional Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi told the court that the convicts cannot be produced before the court due to a high security risk. The accountability court conceded the request and appointed Magistrate Wasim Ahmed to execute the warrants of imprisonment. By this exercise, authorities have eliminated any chance of producing Nawaz and Maryam before the court tonight or in the morning. The magistrate will execute the warrants of imprisonment at the sub-jail. Media representatives who had gathered to cover the production of Nawaz and Maryam before the court were not allowed to enter the premises of the court complex.Prosecutor Abbasi while briefing the media after in-camera proceedings said the convicts would be taken to jail directly from IIA.Nawaz and Maryam had taken off from Abu Dhabi for Lahore shortly after 6pm PST on the last leg of their journey home from London. Their flight, Etihad Airways flight EY243, was earlier scheduled to land at 6:15pm PST at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport, but suffered a nearly three-hour delay.
An airport official, when approached by our correspondent, had stated the reason for the hold-up in Abu Dhabi as a delay in an Etihad flight arriving from Bangkok, which was supposed to fly EY243’s passengers to Lahore.
The flight eventually took off at nearly 6pm PST and landed in Lahore at 8.45pm.According to media reports, dozens of security officials entered the plane after it landed and asked other passengers to leave. The duo’s passports were seized by a three-member Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team. Their immigration formalities were completed on board the plane.The two were taken into custody at around 9:25pm and put on a chartered plane to Islamabad.Nawaz and Maryam had been convicted by an accountability court in the Avenfield corruption reference last Friday and handed jail sentences of 10 years and seven years, respectively. The former was found guilty of owning assets beyond known income, while his daughter was convicted for aiding and abetting her father in covering up a “conspiracy”.
After the verdict was announced, Nawaz and Maryam had said they would return to Pakistan and appeal against the decision.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Punjab governments had made arrangements to take the father-daughter duo into custody upon arrival and shift them to Adiala Jail, where they are supposed to serve their jail term.In Lahore, authorities had braced to maintain law and order as thousands of PML-N workers and supporters had gathered at various points in the city to welcome the ousted premier and his daughter.Large parts of the city were locked down as the state seemed determined to prevent supporters from reaching the airport.
PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, whose caravan had gathered at Lohari Gate, had led the main welcoming rally to the airport to accord his brother and PML-N supremo Nawaz a warm welcome. When Nawaz and Maryam were flown out, he was en route to the airport. PML-N workers who were part of the rally were chanting slogans of “Rok sako tau rok lo (stop us if you can)” and “Vote ko izzat do (respect the vote)”.
According to media reports, no PML-N supporters were allowed onto airport premises.While waiting at the Abu Dhabi airport for his flight home, Nawaz spoke to reporters from various news organisations over the phone.
During the call, Nawaz wondered how a flight “that is never late” had been delayed today and urged people to “think about who delayed this flight and why.”
When asked if he believes that returning to Pakistan in the current “tense” situation was a good idea, Nawaz said that he knows “what the situation in the country is like”.
“I know I have been handed a 10-year sentence and Maryam has been given seven years in jail, but we are returning because this country’s fate needs to change — we need to change it.”
“The media also needs be brave and take a stand in the face of it all,” Nawaz said, adding that the media’s freedom is being curbed today because “they see that this nation has risen and the media is rising and they are afraid. Why else would they do all this?”
“What is happening in this country today, what is happening in Lahore, raises questions regarding the elections. No other province is facing the situation we see in Lahore: hundreds of our party workers have been arrested; people are being pressured into switching loyalties. All of this forms a question mark on the credibility of the election,” Nawaz said.
“I am not afraid of being arrested. If I was, why would I be coming back? It does not matter if NAB or the people who have sent NAB personnel arrest me from here [Abu Dhabi] or from Lahore. I am ready for it,” Nawaz said.
BBC correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan Secunder Kermani, who was at Abu Dhabi airport, said that Nawaz and Maryam were in a lounge at the airport but security personnel would not let reporters through, so they had to huddle around a phone in a different lounge in order to speak to him.Earlier, in a video message, tweeted by Maryam, the former premier had urged his followers to stand with him when he arrives and “change the fate of the country”.
“The country is at a critical juncture right now,” Nawaz said in the recording. “I have done what I could. I am aware that I have been sentenced to 10 years [in prison] and I will be taken to a jail cell straight away — but I want the Pakistani nation to know that I am doing this for you.”Cellphone services have been partially suspended in certain parts of Lahore, and as many as 2,000 Rangers personnel have been deployed at and around Lahore Airport where – according to sources – the Interior Ministry, in a meeting two days ago, had decided to contain Nawaz and Maryam, sources said.Heavy contingents of police have been deployed at all entry points to the city, and containers have been readied to block off main roads.
A police official claimed that the arrangements were made to avoid any terrorism-related incidents, and that no orders had been passed to arrest political workers or to block the motorway.
Punjab Home Department sources earlier told Dawn that anyone holding a rally would have to seek prior permission from the deputy commissioner as per the Election Commission of Pakistan Code of Conduct, but so far no one has sought any permission in Lahore.
The sources had said that authorities would not allow any processions to go to the airport. Multiple blockades have been set up on roads across the city.
Three helicopters and the Punjab Chief Minister Prof Hassan Askari’s airplane have been placed at NAB’s disposal in the eventuality that Nawaz and Maryam will need to be transported to Rawalpindi.