Pak court adjourns Davis case till March 14

Lahore: American official Raymond Davis arrested for double murder may have to spend at least three more weeks in custody with a Pakistani court on Thursday putting off to next month the case to decide his diplomatic status, escalating the tense standoff between the two countries over the issue.

The Lahore High Court adjourned the case till March 14 after Deputy Attorney General Naveed Inayat Malik, who represented the federal government at today`s hearing, told its Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry that Foreign Ministry needed more time to submit a response on the diplomatic status of Davis.

The US has insisted that 37-year-old Davis has diplomatic immunity and demanded that he should be released immediately.

"We believe that diplomatic immunity (to Davis) is a fact. From our standpoint, it is not a matter in dispute. It`s certainly not a matter that should be resolved by courts in Pakistan," State Department spokesman P J Crowley said in Washington.

Khwaja Haris, the Advocate General of the Punjab government, told the Lahore High Court that the federal government alone could determine whether Davis has diplomatic immunity. He argued that the Vienna Convention does not give blanket immunity to persons involved in heinous crimes.

Davis, arrested on January 27 after he shot and killed two Pakistani men who he claimed were trying to rob him, had been charged for murder by police, he remarked.

The American official claimed that he had fired in self defence, but this was rejected by police.

After hearing the arguments of the lawyers for the federal and provincial governments, Chief Justice Chaudhry said: "How can the court proceed further in the case till the Foreign Office tells us about his (Davis`) diplomatic status?"

He subsequently adjourned the matter till March 14.

The High Court is hearing several similar petitions asking it to direct authorities to prosecute Davis.

An application was also filed today by lawyer Azhar Siddique to make former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi party to the case as he had contended that the Foreign Office was of the opinion that Davis does not enjoy "blanket immunity".

Deputy Attorney General Malik also informed the court that Davis` name had been included on the government`s Exit Control List to bar him from leaving Pakistan.

Authorities were continuing a probe to determine whether Davis had diplomatic immunity, he said.

Notwithstanding US pressure, Pakistan`s top leaders including President Asif Ali Zardari, have said that Davis` case is already in the court and will be decided according to the country`s laws.

US President Barack Obama waded into the diplomatic row for the first time on Tuesday, saying Pakistan should release Davis on grounds of diplomatic immunity.

The issue has taken Pakistan-US relations to a new low and American lawmakers have warned that the detention of the official could affect civil and military aid to Islamabad.

The US has also postponed a trilateral meeting with Pakistan and Afghanistan scheduled for this month due to the row.

Davis is currently being held in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore and police have accused him of murder in a charge sheet filed in a lower court.

Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who was not reallocated the foreign affairs portfolio during a recent shake-up of the Cabinet apparently due to his stand on Davis` issue, yesterday contended that he believed the American does not have "blanket immunity".

Three FIRs were registered and police had conducted an investigation following which Davis had been charged for murder, Punjab Advocate General Haris told the court.

The Punjab government has fulfilled all legal requirements in the case, he said.

Haris said a "serious question" had arisen regarding Davis` status as US authorities first stated that he was a member of the staff of the consulate in Lahore but later contended he was a member of the technical staff of the embassy in Islamabad.

Deputy Attorney General Malik informed the court that concerned authorities, including the Federal Investigation Agency, Director General Passport, Director General of ISI, Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau had been notified that Davis` name had been included on government`s Exit Control List to bar him from leaving Pakistan.

The Lahore High Court is hearing several similar petitions asking it to direct the government to prosecute Davis and not to hand him over to the US.