By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Lahore’s High Court has accepted a request from Pakistan’s government to delay a hearing by three weeks on whether U.S. citizen Raymond Davis — charged with shooting and killing two Pakistanis — is protected by diplomatic immunity.
Deputy Attorney-General Naveed Inavat Malik said today that Pakistan’s federal government would submit an opinion on the matter to the court and had asked for more time to prepare.
Chief Justice Ijaz Chaudry said he could not issue a ruling before getting the statement from Pakistan’s government.
It was not immediately clear why the government needed extra time to prepare. Government officials had previously said they were ready to issue their finding to the court today.
The postponement of the hearing comes after attorney Mohammad Azhar Siddique filed a petition to summon former Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to testify on the diplomatic status of Davis.
Siddique said the hearing had been adjourned until March 14 “for submission of reply, in which a very important question regarding the claim of immunity or granting of immunity has to be discussed.”
Question Of Diplomatic Immunity
The U.S. government says Davis was part of the embassy’s “administrative and technical staff,” which means he may have been involved with security. But Pakistani media have focused on him being a former Special Forces soldier who runs an American “protective services” company with his wife.
Although Washington describes Davis as an embassy employee, he apparently had been attached for a while to the consulate in Lahore. That adds further confusion about his status, because consulate employees do not always get the same level of diplomatic protection as embassy staffers.
On February 17, the top legal official for Punjab Province maintained that Davis did not qualify for immunity because of his connection to the Lahore Consulate.
Punjab Advocate-General Khawaja Haris said that although Davis was holding a diplomatic passport, “it does not mean that he enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution.”
Former Foreign Minister Qureshi said on February 16 that while in office earlier this month, his legal advisers told him Davis did not qualify for blanket diplomatic immunity
U.S. Ties vs. Anti-U.S. Outrage
The case is straining Washington’s already troubled relationship with Pakistan.
Washington says Davis shot two armed Pakistani men in self-defense as they tried to rob him in Lahore, and that his detention is illegal under international agreements covering diplomats.
Pakistan’s officials — fearful of stoking more outrage in a public already rife with anti-U.S. sentiment — have said the issue is up to the courts to decide.
Opposition parties in Pakistan have seized on public anger over the case and have backed calls from family members like Waseem Shamshad, the brother of one of the men killed, for the death penalty.
“Our demand since the very first day has been that we want to see him hanged,” Shamshad has said. “That is all. We want nothing else.”
Davis has been held in a Pakistani jail since his arrest in Lahore immediately after the January 27 shootings. His name also has been put on a list barring him from leaving Pakistan, Malik said.
On February 16, U.S. Senator John Kerry (Democrat-Massachusetts) said he was hopeful that Washington and Islamabad could make progress “in the next few days” toward resolving the dispute.
Kerry held two days of meetings this week with senior Pakistani government officials and opposition powerbrokers.
written by Ron Synovitz, from agency reports