KARACHI: A security lapse at the Sindh Assembly on Friday created a commotion in the house when it was revealed that an armed man was sitting in the speaker’s gallery.
The Speaker of the assembly, Agha Siraj Durrani, was informed about this when he saw a man cross over from the glass partition between the gallery and where the members of the provincial assembly were seated on the ground floor.
This, it was learnt later, was part of a private television channel’s ‘sting operation’ to expose the inadequate security protocol at the assembly. The man with the weapon was a part of the TV crew. The reporter leading the TV crew asked the armed man to hand over his pistol, which was taken to the speaker.
Host of the TV programme has been arrested and booked in a criminal case
Iqrar-ul-Hasan, the host of a private TV channel’s programme, Sar-i-Aam, and the armed man accompanying him in the house were taken into custody. Later, a case was registered against them under Sections 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code at the Arambagh police station.
Condemning the incident, Senior Sindh Minister Nisar Khuhro, who was at the session along with Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, said that it was not appropriate to raise fingers at the assembly’s security under the cover of ‘journalism’.
Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal said that an inquiry committee had been formed to look into the security breach, while the speaker announced that all passes for the current assembly session stood be cancelled.
Explaining how a pass is issued, Umar Farooq, the secretary of the Sindh Assembly, told Dawn that before a session was to be held he received a list of names from the Sindh information department. “I assess the list and issue passes accordingly. Only with the pass is an individual or media team allowed to enter the premises,” he claimed.
According to Mr Farooq, Friday’s incident was something they had not dealt with before.
“We are looking into the matter and have formed a committee to investigate what happened,” he said, adding that he was not sure if the media team which conducted the sting operation had media or special passes to enter the speaker’s gallery.
He said that he ensured that there was extra security in and around the building whenever the assembly was in session.
“The police and security guards are supposed to check cars and individuals who enter the house,” he said, adding that they were supposed to be on 24/7 during a session.
Iqbal Khattak, a media analyst, said that the private television channel’s team tried to conduct a sting operation which turned out to be unsuccessful.
“If you’re conducting a sting operation or want to expose something, you should carry out your investigation and then return to the newsroom before airing it,” he said. “It was a risky situation to put the crew and lawmakers in. What if the gun had been spotted by a guard or security personnel who was not aware of what was happening and had opened fire?”
Coastal Development Authority Minister Dr Sikandar Mandhro, who previously held the portfolio of parliamentary affairs, said: “There are some laws and protocols of the house that have to be followed.”
“We were in the house when this incident took place,” he said, adding that the MPAs learnt that someone [from the media] was entering the house and knew that someone in the speaker’s gallery had a gun.
According to Dr Mandhro, there is a strict security check at the Sindh Assembly.
“Our cars are screened and we are frisked,” he said. “We are not allowed to enter just like that. Our drivers are allowed to enter with a permanent pass. Candid camera programmes should not be carried out at the assembly as it can be unsafe and disrupt the session.”
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2016