Arrest warrant against Pak actress for not appearing in court

A Pakistani judge has issued an arrest warrant for TV actress Atiqa Odho, a close aide of ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf, because of her "continuous absence" from court in connection with a case related to the seizure of alcohol from her baggage at an airport.

Civil Judge Hamayun Pervez of Rawalpindi directed authorities to arrest Odho and produce her in his court for the next hearing on November 15. The judge issued the arrest warrant yesterday due to Odho's "continuous absence" from court during the hearing of her case. The court had on September 29 summoned her for a hearing held yesterday.

The judge issued the arrest warrant after she failed to appear before him. Odho, 43, was briefly detained by the Airport Security Force and customs at the international airport in Rawalpindi on June 5 for having two bottles of liquor in her luggage. Though she was released without being charged, authorities were forced to take action against her after Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry took suo motu notice of the matter.

Police booked Odho under the Prohibition Order of 1979, a law passed during the regime of late Gen Zia-ul-Haq to ban liquor. She was granted bail on July 13. Police have presented to court their final 'challan' or chargesheet that names Odho as an accused. The investigation officer, in a statement to the court, contended that Odho had "disappeared from the scene."

Supporters of Odho have contended that the action taken against her could be the judiciary's response to Musharraf's crackdown on the country's top judges, including Chief Justice Chaudhry, in 2007. Odho has been an outspoken champion of Musharraf and even acted as the spokesperson for his All Pakistan Muslim League party.

Civil society activists have criticised the judiciary for using its suo motu powers on trivial issues like the seizure of liquor while Pakistan is grappling with more serious problems like rising extremism and rampant corruption. Odho resigned from the post of vice president of the All Pakistan Muslim League but the party has said her fate will be decided after an internal committee gives its decision on her case.

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