A tent village of protesters has cropped up on the otherwise busy Faizabad Interchange. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
A tent village of protesters has cropped up on the otherwise busy Faizabad Interchange. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday directed the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah to call off its sit-in at Faizabad.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui issued the direction while hearing a petition filed by the religious group, seeking action against lawmakers responsible for altering a declaration related to finality of the prophethood of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the Elections Act 2017. However, soon after the error was pointed out by lawmakers, parliament rectified it.

The religious group has been staging a protest at the busy Faizabad Interchange between Rawalpindi and Islamabad and has blocked all connected arteries. Protest leaders filed the petition before the IHC after over a week of demonstrating. Following a preliminary hearing, Justice Siddiqui directed the protesting clerics to immediately vacate the interchange and show respect for the law.

The court observed that due to the sit-in, citizens, especially students, government and private employees, were suffering the most.

Minister expresses frustration with sit-in leaders in parliament; capital admin issues another notice to protest leaders

The judge observed that since he was already hearing an identical petition and passed an order on it a day earlier, there was no need to pass a fresh order.

However, he adjourned further hearing of the matter until Nov 29.

In another petition filed by a lawyer allegedly beaten up by the protesters, the court sought a report from the capital administration and the Islamabad police chief for not confining the sit-in to the designated place – the Democracy Park and Speech Corner near Shakarparian.

Justice Siddiqui summoned the IGP, chief commissioner and deputy commissioner to appear in person along with a report showing “what preventive measures were taken to lead the protesters to the designated place.”

The court also asked them to explain “why law did not take its course to enforce the writ of government”.

Justice Siddiqui also ordered the secretary Ministry of Interior to depute an officer, not below the rank of additional secretary, to appear before the court on the next date of hearing.

The directions were issued after a lawyer, Rana Abdul Qayyum, approached the court seeking its intervention in ending the blockade of Faizabad.

The petition said Mr Qayyum, a retired chief warrants officer (CWO) of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), was manhandled, beaten up, briefly detained and deprived of cash by the protesters.

It said that Mr Qayyum was heading home on his motorcycle on Nov 10 when he was intercepted by the protesters near Faizabad.

The protesters “started hurling filthy abuses to the petitioners and lawyers in general. They held the petitioner from [his] neck and threw him on the ground and beat him”.

Later, he was produced before a “Pir Sahib” who declared him an “apostate” and said he (petitioner) should be killed. Soon, he said, Mr Qayyum was produced before another man who introduced himself as Hafeez, a former PAF chief technician.

Mr Hafeez let the petitioner go on the condition that he would bring all ex-servicemen to join the sit-in in the evening.

ICT admin notice

Also on Thursday, the capital administration wrote to Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, asking him to either call off the sit-in and vacate the area, shift to another designated spot immediately, or face strict legal action.

The notice recalled that Rizvi had already been informed of the illegality of the sit-in and was explained how he and his followers could protest for their demands legally in the light of the orders of the Islamabad High Court.

It said that a second letter was also sent to Rizvi, asking him to call off the illegal sit-in or shift to the Shakarparian Parade Ground and seek an NOC from the competent authority.

Quoting the IHC order, the notice called on the sit-in leaders to “immediately call off your sit-in in the light of the orders passed by the IHC”, adding that non-compliance would lead to contempt of court and authorities would be compelled to initiate strict legal action.

NA debate

The sit-in also found mention during Thursday’s session of the National Assembly, when Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal called on representatives of religions parties to persuade the protesters to end their sit-in.

The minister said that the protesters’ demand that the law minister should resign was “unacceptable”.

“If such a demand is accepted, then tomorrow anyone can gather 2,000 people and seek anyone’s resignation,” he said during debate on an amendment to the Elections Act 2017 that restored clauses 7b and 7c, regarding the status of non-Muslims, particularly Ahmadis.

He said that over the past six or seven days, the government had been trying to resolve the matter through talks and negotiations were held with protesters at various levels.

Not only had he directly met a delegation of protesters, but officials of the local administration and political leadership had also spoken to them, the minister revealed.

Mr Iqbal said the government was prepared to take every administrative step to clear the roads, but there were reports that some elements wanted bloodshed so that they could create chaos in the country.

The protesters had no justification for the protests following the decision of the Islamabad High Court, he concluded.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2017

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