A Pakistani anti-terrorism court conducting the trial of seven suspects in the Mumbai attacks on Wednesday issued a contempt notice to Interior Minister Rehman Malik for announcing that a judicial commission would visit India soon, though the court had not yet decided the matter.
Judge Shahid Rafique of the Rawalpindi-based court issued the notice in response to a petition moved by defence lawyers, who contended that Malik had committed contempt of court by stating in a media interview last month that the Pakistani commission would go to India within 10 days even though the court had not decided on the formation of the commission.
During the proceedings conducted behind closed doors at Adiala Jail for security reasons, the judge directed Malik to respond to the notice at the next hearing on August 13.
"The Interior Minister told the media on the sidelines of a SAARC meeting in Bhutan last month that the commission would go to India within 10 days even though the matter is pending in the court. The court is yet to decide the issue in the light of arguments by the defence and the prosecution," defence lawyer Shahbaz Rajput told PTI.
"The minister's remarks have created an impression that he is controlling the proceedings in the anti-terrorism court and interfering in them. The integrity of the court has been affected and the minister's remarks were prejudicial and that is why we have decided to protest," he said.
The defence lawyers argued in court that Malik's comments had created the impression that the anti-terrorism court and the Interior Minister have already decided the issue of sending the commission to India.
The anti-terrorism court is currently hearing two petitions regarding the formation of the commission to be sent to India to interview key persons associated with the 2008 Mumbai attacks, including the police officer who investigated the incident and the magistrate who recorded the confession of lone surviving attacker Ajmal Kasab.
Legal experts said the issue of forming the commission would now take a back seat to the contempt of court notice issued to Malik, which would have to be decided first.
If the court is not satisfied with Malik's explanation, the judge could summon the minister to appear in court, the experts said.
In a related development, the prosecution told the judge that it wanted to present three witnesses in the case. The judge said these witnesses could depose during the next hearing on August 13.
The seven Pakistani suspects, including LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, have been accused of planning, facilitating and financing the November 2008 attacks in India's financial hub that killed 166 people.
The trial has been marred by repeated delays and only one out of over 160 prosecution witnesses has testified so far.
Shahid Rafique is the fifth judge to hear the case since proceedings began in early 2009.