LAHORE: In a decision that is likely to add to the woes of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership and the Sharif family, the Lahore High Court on Thursday ordered the Punjab home secretary to make public the report of a judicial inquiry — often referred to as Justice Najafi’s report — into the 2014 killings of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers in front of the residence of PAT leader Dr Tahirul Qadri in Model Town.
“The inquiry report prepared by a one-man tribunal consisting of an honourable judge of the Lahore High Court regarding the incident of Model Town taken place on 16.06.2014 is a public document being outcome of judicial proceedings, therefore, in the public interest, it is directed that the same be publicised forthwith,” Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi said in his order issued on a petition filed by the families of those who had either been killed or injured in the incident.
A law officer of the government said the LHC’s decision would be challenged through an intra-court appeal before a division bench. However, he did not comment when asked whether the government would comply with the order of the single bench or wait for the decision on its appeal.
Law officer says govt will file intra-court appeal against order
Speaking to journalists after the court’s verdict, Punjab Law Minster Rana Sanaullah Khan said the government had no problems with the report being made public. A full bench was already scheduled to hear a case pertaining to the report on Sept 25, he said, adding that even the PAT had a copy of the report. Dr Qadri only wanted to destabilise the country, Mr Khan alleged.
At a separate press conference, PAT chairman Dr Tahirul Qadri hailed the LHC’s decision and demanded that the authorities place all the suspects nominated in the FIR on the Exit Control List.
On Aug 16, 2014, a sessions court had allowed an application filed by the PAT and Idara Minhajul Quran, and directed the police to register an FIR against then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Ministers Rana Sanaullah Khan, Khwaja Saad Rafiq and Abid Sher Ali, MNA Hamza Shahbaz, Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif, then interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, former information minister Pervez Rashid and several other police officers. The police had also registered another FIR of the incident on a complaint filed by the State.
Later on Feb 7, 2017, an antiterrorism court refused to try the former prime minister and 11 others, including federal and provincial ministers, for the Model Town killings. However, the court had partially allowed a private complaint of the PAT and initiated trial of former IGP Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera, former Lahore DCO Muhammad Usman and 123 others.
In Wednesday’s verdict issued by Justice Naqvi, the court regretted that the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 enacted by the government had unfortunately been deviated by itself. The judge rejected an argument of the government that the proceedings of an inquiry tribunal could not be termed judicial in nature. He also turned down another argument by the government against the jurisdiction of a single bench to hear the petition.
The government’s counsel had argued that six similar petitions on the same matter were already pending before a full bench.
However, Justice Naqvi observed that the petitions pending before the full bench had not been filed by a legal heir of the deceased or those injured in the incident, and hence the petitioners for those pleas could not be termed aggrieved.
Discussing the merits of the petition, the judge questioned whether government machinery could be used in a civilised society to curb political rivals in a manner so reckless that it would result in the deaths of 14 people.
The judge observed that the outcome of an inquiry held on account of public interest must be brought to the notice of the public at large because in a democratic system, the will of the people was of singular importance.
He said the rule of law had to be interpreted while casting equal privilege to all sections of society. “And the high court is duty bound to not only safeguard, but rather enforce the fundamental rights of citizens,” Justice Naqvi observed.
“The home secretary of government of Punjab is directed to immediately provide a copy of the report to the aggrieved persons for their consumption without fail,” the judge concluded the verdict.
Barrister Syed Ali Zafar, Advocate Khwaja Tariq Raheem and Abdullah Malik represented the petitioners. Qaiser Iqbal and 19 others had filed the petition relying on Article 19(A) of the Constitution, which ensures fundamental right of every citizen to have access to information in all matters of public interest.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2017