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IHC restricts protests to Democracy Park

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ISLAMABAD: Political and religious parties will no longer enjoy free space in the federal capital to hold protest gatherings and rallies as the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has banned such activities anywhere in the city except at the Democracy Park and Speech Corner (DPSC) at Parade Ground near Shakarparian.

In a detailed judgment issued on Thursday on identical petitions filed against the November 2016 “lockdown” of the capital by the PTI, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui directed the federal government to formulate a comprehensive strategy outlining restrictions based on the right to assemble. “Such restrictions should keep paramount the fundamental rights of the public at large whilst pursuing the broader aims of national security and public safety.”

The IHC issued the judgment at a time when 13 people, including two senior police officers, were killed in a terrorist attack outside Punjab Assembly in Lahore. The protest was organised by chemists and pharmaceutical manufacturers against a crackdown on the sale of spurious and expired drugs.

Justice Siddiqui on October 31, 2016, stopped the PTI from locking down the federal capital and asked the party to hold its protest at the DPSC which the district administration and the CDA allocated for political gatherings in November 2015.

The detailed judgment said: “In future, all political and/or religious protests/rallies etc., in Islamabad should be confined to the Democracy Park and Speech Corner without any discrimination, fear or favour.”

It added: “This would ensure protection and enforcement of the constitutional rights of the public who have already suffered immensely in the recent past on account of political activities in the midriff of the city.”

According to the petitions, the sit-ins or lockdown of Islamabad would affect fundamental rights as given in the Constitution’s Article 9 (the right to life), Article 14 (the right to dignity), Article 15 (freedom of movement), Article 18 (right to trade), Article 25-A (right to education), and Article 26 (non-discrimination in respect of access to public places).

The court observed that besides Article 16, Article 26 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights recognised the right to peaceful assembly as “no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedom of others.”

Likewise, the judgment noted that Article 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels, in particular in political, trade union and civic matters which implies the right of everyone to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his or her interest.”

The verdict said the right to assemble was subject to “reasonable restrictions.” It regretted that those who speak about democracy, fundamental and constitutional rights ignored the rest.

It said the court had a duty to strike a proper balance between the freedom to peacefully assemble and the competing rights of those who live, work, shop, trade and carry on business in the locality affected due to the assembly, adding this balance should ensure that other activities taking place in the same city/region may remain unaffected if they themselves do not impose unreasonable burdens.

The court directed that in order to ensure the protection of life, security of citizens, property and fundamental rights of the citizens living in Islamabad, the state was duty bound to protect these rights and take all remedial steps in accordance with the law.

“If any attempt is made to block or lock down Islamabad or any effort is made to disrupt the normal life in the city, the administration has the authority to deal with the situation as per mandate of law,” the judgment concluded.

Published in Dawn February 17th, 2017


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