The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed dissatisfaction at the reports submitted by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with regards to the Faizabad sit-in in Islamabad, which is now in its third week.
Daily life in the capital has been disrupted by protesters belonging to religious parties — including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST) — who are calling for the sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid and strict action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017. The amendment had earlier been deemed a 'clerical error' and has already been rectified.
The protesters had occupied the Faizabad Bridge which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road, both of which are the busiest roads in the twin cities. The Islamabad High Court's (IHC) deadline for the government to remove the protesters expires today.
As the two member bench — headed by Justice Musheer Alam — started hearing the case on Thursday, Justice Qazi Faez Isa said that the authorities need to tell the court who is funding the sit-in and if there is any indication of foreign involvement in the matter.
The bench received reports from the federal and Punjab government on the sit-in and came down hard on them for their failure to resolve the matter.
In his report, the attorney general of Islamabad told the court that the government is erring on the side of caution because there is a risk of confrontation if action is taken against the protesters, as some of them are also armed.
Replying to the attorney general's remarks, Justice Alam said, "Tomorrow, if an enemy of the state chooses to occupy the streets of the capital, will the government try to negotiate with them?"
Trying to clarify the government's position, the attorney general said that the government had sent the SC's order regarding dispersing the participants to the leaders of the protest.
Angered by this reply, Justice Alam said, "What do you mean, will the protesters now decide if the sit-in will end or not?"
"No one is paying attention to the main point: all the reports reflect that the Punjab government had prior information regarding a possible sit-in and no measures were taken to stop it," Justice Alam said.
Disconcerted by the government's inaction, Justice Isa said that if the situation is not taken under control, the country's decisions will be taken on the streets rather than in courts.
Speaking about the protesters, Justice Qazi said that the kind of language being used by the leaders of the sit-in is not reflective of Islam.
"Why is the media giving the sit-in so much coverage; where is the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra)?" asked the judge.
"Who is paying for the sit-in, who is providing the protesters food and electricity?"
Justice Qazi asked that the IB and ISI satisfy the court by filing the missing details in the confidential report.
The court adjourned the hearing of the case for a week.
During a previous hearing of the case, Justice Isa had said that Article 15 of the Constitution allows freedom of movement to the public. He had asked government authorities to explain what steps have been taken to protect public's basic rights.
The court had also issued notices to the inspectors-general of Islamabad and Punjab, the attorney general and advocate generals of Islamabad and Punjab, seeking their replies on the matter by November 23 (today).
The government is under mounting pressure to end the Faizabad protest. The IHC on Monday initiated contempt proceedings against top officials of the Islamabad administration by issuing them show-cause notices.
Arrests for manhandling policemen, FC personnel
Police arrested 42 protesters who attacked and injured policemen as well as members of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) late last night.
At least 12 policemen, including a superintendent, and FC personnel were injured last night by means of stone pelting. The officials were also beaten by sticks and iron rods, DawnNews reported.
Protesters also beat up two photojournalists and tried to snatch their cameras as they were trying to capture images of the attack on police.
The police registered a case against the leaders and participants of the sit-in.
A total of 19 cases have been registered against the protesters up till now.
Protesters refuse to leave without law minister's resignation
The government on Monday had scrambled to secure the support of religious leaders and ulema from across the political spectrum in a bid to negotiate a peaceful end to the sit-in.
A meeting of the clerics and scholars, which was also attended by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Mohammad Yousuf, had resolved to end the protest in a peaceful manner.
However, a meeting between representatives of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and government ministers held at Punjab House was unable to make any breakthrough, as the protesters refused to budge from their demand for the law minister’s resignation.