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Supreme Court directs govt to provide PTI with venue for meeting

The Supreme Court building in Islamabad. Photo: The SC website
The Supreme Court building in Islamabad. Photo: The SC website

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday restrained the federal government from arresting leaders and workers of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and directed to provide the party a venue between H-9 and G-9 areas of the federal capital for holding a public gathering. 

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsen and comprising Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi, heard the petition filed by the Islamabad High Court Bar Association.

Shoaib Shaheen, President Islamabad High Court Bar Association, the other day had filed a petition in the apex court against the government’s ‘illegal raids’ at the houses of leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and illegal blockades and creating hurdles for the long march on May 25, announced by former prime minister Imran Khan.

The petitioner has submitted that with the blockade and hurdles created by the government in connection with the PTI’s long march towards Islamabad, people were facing severe problems while going to offices, hospitals as well as courts.

On Wednesday, the court, after conducting a day-long hearing on the matter, directed the government to provide the PTI space between H-9 and G-9 sectors of Islamabad to hold its public gathering.

Attorney General Ashter Ausaf objected to allowing the PTI a public gathering on the main Srinagar Highway. However, the court directed the government to permit the PTI to hold its gathering in the same area.

The court directed the government to release forthwith all the leaders and workers of PTI arrested ahead of its long march besides restraining the authorities from making more arrests. The court also directed for release of lawyers arrested besides directing the Inspector General of Police, Islamabad, for providing adequate security to the gathering within three hours.

The court also directed the PTI to ensure that no damage was caused to the public places and there will be no hurdles created in the flow of traffic on the Srinagar Highway as well. Similarly, the court also directed the talks committees of both the government and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to ensure holding talks at the office of chief commissioner, Islamabad, at 10pm besides directing for providing adequate security to the PTI committee during their meeting with the concerned authorities.

The court also directed the government to follow the point agreed between the JUI-F and PTI during the former’s 2019 long march adding that any new clause should be included in the agreement through mutual consultation and the court should also be informed. Later, the court adjourned the hearing for today (Thursday) at 9:30am.

The court directed Attorney General Ashter Ausaf to seek instructions from Prime Minister Mian Shehbaz Sharif over the five demands made by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in connection with its Azadi March to the federal capital.

He further submitted that PTI chief Imran Khan has demanded release of all the arrested party workers and leaders and removal of all the barricades, blocking routes leading to Islamabad besides ensuring protection of Chadar and Char Dewari as well as ensuring that lawyers would not be harassed and their offices would not be raided as well

“Whatever the direction the court may give, they will implement it in letter and spirit,” Babar Awan assured the court. Justice Ijazul Ahsen recalled that during the JUI dharna, the promise made by its counsel Kamran Murtaza was fulfilled.

“We will also abide by the court order in letter and spirit,” Babar Awan assured the court. He informed the court that PTI Chairman Imran Khan had constituted a four-member committee, including him as well as Faisal Chaudhry, Aamir Kiyani and Ali Awan, for holding talks with the government.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Ashter Ausaf submitted before the court that Prime Minister Mian Shehbaz Sharif has constituted a committee for deciding the venue of the PTI rally. He informed the court that the prime minister has conveyed he believes in the rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution but wants that political matters should be settled out of courts.

Earlier, during the day, the court had issued directives to the government to provide an alternate place for PTI’s long march participants to hold a meeting in Islamabad and directed both the parties to sit together and find an amicable solution to it.

Justice Ijazul Ahsen had ordered chief commissioner, Islamabad, to evolve a traffic plan enabling the participants of the rally to reach the venue and sought compliance report by 2:30 pm. The court had also directed the counsels for the PTI to deliberate on the issue with their leadership for the alternate venue.

“We want an assurance that there will be no violence and all roads will remain open for safe movement of public,” Justice Ahsen had remarked. Similarly, the court had asked the counsels appearing for the PTI to give names if the party fears arrest of their leaders.

Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi, another member of the bench, had asked IGP Islamabad and secretary interior to review their policies. “You should understand your responsibilities and you must fulfil it”, Justice Naqvi told the IGP Islamabad adding that the police chief was appointed only four days ago, so he should stay within his limits as he had already enough burdens of cases.

Justice Ijazul Ahsen questioned as to whether the whole country will be shut down in protest. During the course of hearing, Attorney General Ashter Ausaf sought time for seeking instructions from the government at which the court allowed him to seek instructions till 12 pm.

Justice Ijazul Ahsen, while quoting media reports, observed that all exams had been postponed and roads and businesses have been closed while an emergency was declared in the public hospitals of the federal capital.

The Attorney General, however, expressed ignorance about all such details and sought time for collecting the information in this regard. The learned AGP, however, submitted that personally he was against the blocking of roads causing hardships to the people but added that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf had threatened of a bloody march.

“Although, taking effective measures for the protection of people and their properties were the need of the hour but the court should keep the context behind the government’s decision in view,” Ashter Ausaf submitted.

But Justice Ijazul Ahsen observed that the Constitution doesn’t say anywhere to close down the entire country to which the AGP replied that the Constitution also doesn’t mention anywhere that armed men shouldn’t be stopped, either.

To a court query, Ashter Ausaf submitted that the PTI had sought permission for holding a sit-in at the Srinagar Highway but the request was rejected.

Quoting intelligence reports, Attorney General informed the court that PTI’s chief Imran Khan’s life was in danger and there was a threat of a suicide attack on the ex-prime minister. Justice Ahsen, however, asked the learned AGP as to why Lahore, Sargodha and rest of the country were closed if the government had an issue with the sit-in at the Srinagar Highway.

When the judge asked as who had reported the security threat, the interior secretary said that two intelligence agencies and the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) reported it.

At the outset of the hearing, Shoaib Shaheen, the petitioner and President Islamabad High Court Bar Association, told the court that the police are barging into lawyers’ houses to arrest them. He also referred to the raid at former judge Nasira Iqbal’s house. He, however, submitted that the protesters and government are bound to follow the Constitution and law.

At this, AGP Ausaf argued that how could armed men be allowed to protest. “Where did the armed men come from when the protest hasn’t even started?” the IHCBA president objected.

The court, while issuing the written order in the matter, stated: “In view of the fact that a categorical assurance has been given on behalf of the top leadership of PTI that their rally would not cause any inconvenience or blockage of Srinagar Highway nor otherwise inconvenience the public and citizenry at large, and that it shall be ensured that the rally is conducted in a peaceful and lawful manner without, in particular, causing any damage of any nature to public or private property, we direct the Chief Commissioner, ICT to provide the same venue for the rally as was provided to JUI(F) sometime ago, which is (as noted above) the ground located between Sectors H-and G-9 area of the Islamabad.”

It further ordered: “The IG Police is directed to ensure that there is no delay in this regard and shall give a presentation by way of progress made/work completed to this court on the next date of hearing.

“We had directed Dr. Babar Awan, learned Sr. ASC as well as Mr. Faisal Fareed, learned ASC, to seek instructions from the PTI leadership regarding the venue at which they wish to hold their protest rally,” the order said .

“We had also directed them to seek assurances from the party leadership that the workers/supporters would remain peaceful and follow the guidelines issued by this court from time to time and shall not obstruct road traffic, cause any damage to public/private property and not take the law in their own hands.”

The court noted down in its order that the learned Attorney General for Pakistan has pointed out that venue being sought by PTI cannot accommodate more than around 10,000 persons and it is being claimed by PTI that a crowd much larger than that is expected, which, if true, would among other things inconvenience to the public. The Chief Commissioner, ICT, states that any order passed by this court regarding the venue shall be fully complied with. The IGP, Islamabad submits that all requisite security arrangements shall be put in place as per the SoPs for such events, says the order.

“The learned Attorney General for Pakistan has informed us that lawyers who are not accused of any heinous offernce as reflected in any FIR so far recorded shall be released from custody forthwith,” says the order. “He has further assured us that houses, offices and other private/residential places shall not be raided in an attempt to arrest any political worker/member, sympathizer of PTI, etc. Further all workers/members and/or sympathizers and the leadership of any political party, including PTI, shall not be arrested till further orders unless any offence of a heinous nature is alleged to have been committed by all leaders/political workers supporters/or political sympathizers or members of any political party who have been arrested in the last 48 hours, unless commission of any heinous offence has been alleged in any FIR lodged so far, shall be released forthwith.

“The Chief Commissioner, ICT, states that any order passed by this court regarding the venue shall be fully complied with. The IGP, Islamabad, submits that all requisite security arrangements shall be put in place as per the SoPs for such events,” the court order noted.

“As far as the persons against whom FIRs have been lodged or other action relating to their detention or arrest has been taken, and who have already approached the respective High Courts are concerned, and all such persons as aforesaid who have not yet done so may approach the High Courts, and the said Courts shall, notwithstanding the proceedings before this Court take up and/or continue with (as the case may be) those matters on an urgent basis and pass such orders as deemed appropriate in accordance with law.”

“A committee… is hereby constituted for the purposes as noted above. It shall meet at the office of the Chief Commissioner, Islamabad, who is directed to facilitate and make the requisite arrangements for the meeting of the committce at 10:00pm today. The members of the committee from the side of PTI have, through Dr. Babar Awan, expressed a desire to meet the leadership of their party in order to obtain instructions so that the negotiations can be conducted efficaciously.

“We therefore direct Secretary, Ministry of Interior, as well as IG Police, Islamabad, IG Police, Punjab and Deputy Commissioner, Attock, to facilitate such meeting and safe return of the said members of the committee in order to attend the aforenoted meeting,” says the order.

The court expected that the top leadership of all concerned parties will inform and direct their worker/supporters/sympathizers to stay calm, disengage and not create any law and order situation under any circumstances. The court also expected the top functionaries of the government including the Interior Ministry to ensure that excessive and disproportionate use of force is immediately discontinued.

“The learned Attorney General has on instructions categorically informed us that the government is fully committed to uphold the rule of law and adhere to democratic norms,” says the written order adding that as a first step, and in order to establish the bona fides of the government, the learned Attorney General has obtained the requisite instructions and immediately without loss of time the committee as aforesaid has been constituted in order to ensure that the situation de-escalates and better sense prevails.

“The learned Attorney General has also informed the court that the government is fully committed to the ideals of the Constitution and would fully abide by the law, and the sanctity of homes and offices shall not be violated under any circumstances.

“We have been provided with a copy of the code of conduct which was agreed between the parties at the time when a similar rally was earlier held in Islamabad,” says the written order directing that the copy of the said code of conduct be shared with Dr. Babar Awan, learned Sr. ASC as well as the learned counsel for the petitioner.

“The said code of conduct shall be the first item on the agenda of the meeting to be held by the committee. Any of the parties that wish to deviate/diverge from it shall furnish reasons and justification for the same to this court,” says the written order adding that if any of the parties wishes to add any other condition, the same may be incorporated with the consent of both sides and in the event of disagreement the same shall be brought before this court.

“We have been informed that various buses and transport vehicles have either been impounded or their route permits cancelled without just cause and without following the due process of law,” the written order says

“The buses and transport vehicles which have been impounded, restrained/disallowed from operating in the last 48 hours and for which lawful orders after fulfilling due process have not been passed in accordance with law shall be released and licenses/route permits shall be restored forthwith, provided that show cause notices may be issued in case fresh proccedings need to be initiated in accordance with law,” says the written order.

The court noted that the proceedings and statements made in this court being a sub judice matter shall not be made the subject matter of any press conferences/talk shows/comments by any person including but not limited to the leadership, members or representatives of either side.

The court adjourned the matter for today (Thursday) at 9:30am.

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