ISLAMABAD, Nov 26: Exactly after 16 years, violence revisited the Supreme Court when a group of disgruntled lawyers attacked the hallowed building, smashing doors and windows on Tuesday afternoon.
A section of some 200 young lawyers, who came from the Sahiwal, Gujranwala, Sargodha, Faisalabad and D G Khan divisions of Punjab, to vent their anger at non-establishment of the benches of the Lahore High Court at their Divisional Headquarters, created the ugly scenes and clashed with the police who pushed them out.
They then started a sit-in outside the Supreme Court building. Most of them quit the protest by nightfall but about 60 were staying put till late night, unmoved by the local administration’s pleas to go home.
Tuesday’s ugly incident would be embarrassing for the ruling PML-N because it was also in power when the Supreme Court was attacked last time on November 28, 1997. Then the raiders were the supporters of PML-N while this time they are the supporters of the judiciary in black coats.
“We were promised and the provincial government even notified that high court benches would be established in these divisions sometimes in April or March to facilitate the poor litigants. But the matter is stuck up at the level of the top judiciary,” Chaudhry Arshad Warriach, president of the District Bar Association Sumanderi and one of the protesting lawyers, told Dawn.
The decision to protest in front of the Supreme Court was reached during inter-division meetings held in different cities on rotation, he said.
Some of the protestors used the negotiations arranged for them with the Supreme Court staff to sneak into the building and vent their anger by smashing glass of doors and windows. The police intervened and pushed them out of the building.
When they continued to be rowdy, pelting stones at the building, the police baton charged and fired tear gas shells.
A number of lawyers and 25 policemen were injured in the scuffle, including DSP Zubair Shaikh, SHO Secretariat, Assistant commissioner City Mohammad Ali.
In reaction to the incident, Vice Chairman Pakistan Bar Council Qalbe Hassan announced a countrywide strike and boycott of the courts by the lawyers on Wednesday.
They will hold meetings in their bar rooms and condemn what he called “inhuman and brutal police action” against the lawyers’ “demonstrating peacefully to press their demand” for establishment of benches of the Lahore High Court at their respective Divisional headquarters.
“Not only the police beat up the lawyers severely and aggressively but also used tear gas tear, with the result that many of them were seriously injured,” he said.
Newly appointed president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Kamran Murtaza blamed the local administration for “stirring up an issue out of nothing”. He alleged that the administration did not allow him and Qalbe Hassan to go to their offices situated inside the Supreme Court premises.
“I called the Registrar of the Supreme Court, who was in Lahore, thrice to apprise the chief justice, then holding a court, about the incident but to no avail,” Murtaza stated.
Both Kamran Murtaza and Qalbe Hassan spoke with Dawn late at night while staying with the local lawyers protesting outside the Supreme Court to express solidarity.
They suspected the administration wanted to tire them out and feared police action to disperse them deep in the night.
“It’s total mismanagement. Marks of police brutality the injured lawyers bear are something the police should be ashamed of,” commented advocate Chaudhry Faisal Hussain after visiting them in two city hospitals.
Referring to the establishment of the benches, he said decision is totally administrative and require amendment in the constitution, specifically Article 198 (3 and 4) of the constitution.
Parliamentary leader of the PPP in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan also condemned the alleged police brutality. He assured the lawyers that the party would raise the matter in the Senate session starting from December 2.
The protesting lawyers of the five Punjab divisions claim that the chief justice had made a commitment during various meeting with the delegation of lawyers of different bars for the creation of the benches of Lahore High Court in their areas.
Capital police and administration officials said the lawyers started to assemble in front of the SC building around 9:00am. On their demand, the administration arranged their meeting with the Supreme Court’s assistant registrar Mohammad Ali to discuss the issue.Although the court staff said they could respond to their views only in the form of a petition, the capital administration persuaded the staff to meet the lawyers.
However, the representatives of lawyers preferred to deliver speeches to the protesters before going to the meeting and offer Asr prayer.
They gathered at the entrance reserved for judges and delivered fiery speeches against the judiciary as well as the chief justice, and abusing the judiciary.
Before being formally invited in, the protesting lawyers had been going inside to use the court’s toilets. The court officials asked the capital administration and police to intercept them.
This provoked the lawyers who entered the court building in force. Police tried but failed to stop them. The lawyers broke the barrier at parking lot and the gate at judges entrance and started smashing things up.
That brought the anti-riot unit of the police inside, which pushed the rioting lawyers out when they were about to enter the courtroom.
However, the lawyers again assembled at the parking lot and started pelting stones at the officials and the court building with stones available there. The police first fired a couple of tear gas shells and rubber bullets in the air to disperse them. Later the anti-riot police used batons which injured some of the lawyer who were taken to the Federal Government Services Hospital and the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) for immediate medical attention.
Senior police official said their personnel acted very discreetly to avoid force of the kind they used in a similar situation in September 2007, which resulted in suo motu proceedings against them. The then IGP, SSP, Chief Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner Islamabad were suspended for that action.