A full bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday ordered the Punjab government to make public Justice Baqar Najafi's report, compiled after a judicial inquiry into the 2014 Model Town incident, within 30 days.
Following the court's order, the provincial government has released the report through the Punjab government's Directorate General of Public Relations's website. A copy of it is available here, titled Report of Inquiry Tribunal by Mr. Justice Ali Baqar Najafi Judge Lahore, (High Court Lahore).
The Punjab government has also published another document alongside the Justice Najafi report, apparently to highlight the weaknesses of the former. It is titled Report of One-Man Committee for Review of Report of Tribunal of Inquiry into Minhaj-ul-Quran Complex, Model Town, Lahore Incident and is not to be confused with the Justice Najafi report.
A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh, had decided to order the report's release, dismissing three appeals filed by the Punjab government against its release.
The ongoing trial of a similar case in a separate Anti-Terrorism Court will not be affected by Justice Baqar Najafi's report, the bench ruled.
The Punjab government had argued against issuing the report, saying it was "of a sensitive nature".
The government's counsel, Advocate Khawaja Harris, had argued that the findings in terrorism cases are usually kept under wraps all over the world, and this case should not be an exception.
The prosecution, in its response, argued that the Punjab government's refusal to release the report amounted to an obstruction of justice.
Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar said that the government was "providing cover to the perpetrators of the Model Town incident", adding that the victims' families wanted to know who ordered the police to use violence against them.
Swayed by the PAT's stance, the bench ordered that the report be made public within 30 days.
On June 17, 2014, as many as 14 people had been killed and 100 others injured when police launched an assault on supporters gathered outside the residence of PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri in Model Town, Lahore during what the provincial government had dubbed an ‘anti-encroachment’ operation. The incident has since been remembered as the Model Town tragedy.
Punjab government to weigh legal options
The provincial government will now decide its future strategy in a meeting, according to sources in the provincial advocate general's (AG) office. The meeting is expected to be attended by the AG, law secretary and home secretary, among others.
The provincial government will also meet its legal team to weigh its legal options.
Following the court's order, PAT General Secretary Khurram Nawaz Gandapur said: "This is the second time that the courts have done justice to the victims of the Model Town incident."
PTI took the opportunity to demand the resignation of Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif. PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry claimed that, "the faces of those responsible for the Model Town killings will be unveiled once the report of the incident is released".
Punjab Assembly's opposition leader and PTI member Mehmoodur Rasheed said the opposition would initiate a vote of no-confidence against the provincial government.
The PPP also released a statement, saying that a case must be filed against the Punjab government in light of the verdict.
'Model Town incident FIR registered on Raheel Sharif's intervention'
Reacting to the development, PAT chief Dr Qadri in a press conference congratulated his supporters and workers, saying they had been "rewarded in their struggle for justice."
Recalling the incident, Dr Qadri related how the police had initially refused to file a first information report (FIR) on the matter. He said the case had been registered much later, after the intervention of then chief of army staff Raheel Sharif.
He said that the PAT had subsequently demanded a commission comprising three Supreme Court judges, a precedent for which was present in the Hamid Mir attack case.
However, the government did not accede to this demand, or for the resignation of Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, and instead formed a "one-sided" commission, Dr Qadri said, referring to the Justice Najafi commission.
He added that despite the provincial government and its representatives and officials — including the chief minister and law minister — appearing before the court, the commission held the Punjab government responsible for the incident.
Dr Qadri also admitted that his party had employed delaying tactics because it did not believe they would get justice while the Sharif brothers ruled the country. He said they were waiting for an opportune moment for a free and fair investigation into the matter.
'Report is inconclusive'
While addressing a press conference after Dr Qadri's, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah attempted to dismiss the hype around the Justice Najafi report, calling it inconclusive and claiming that it fails to fix responsibility for the incident on any member of government or law enforcement agencies.
He said that the report also mentions that PAT workers resisted the police crackdown, which was the reason a clash took place.
Sanaullah said: "The report concludes that 'the reader of this report may easily be able to fix responsibility for who was responsible for the incident'." He added that he had never seen any report which does not itself fix responsibility but asks the reader to do it.
Sanaullah also revealed that a one-man committee for the review of the Najafi report comprising former LHC chief justice Khalilur Rehman Khan had suggested that the Punjab government refuse to accept the report because it could fan sectarianism.
"The report is defective in the eye of law," he repeated throughout his press conference, while blaming the PAT for "wanting dead bodies" for its planned Long March to Islamabad in 2014.
'Report is a public document'
The larger LHC bench had on Nov 24 reserved its judgement on an intra-court appeal moved by the Punjab government challenging a single-member bench’s decision to release the report.
Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, the judge who formed the single-member bench, had on Sept 21 ordered the government to release the inquiry report, which had been withheld since Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, the inquiry judge, handed it over to the Punjab chief secretary in 2014.
Justice Naqvi had observed: “The inquiry report is a public document being the outcome of judicial proceedings; therefore, in the public interest, it is directed that the same be publicised forthwith.”
The heirs of those killed or injured in the Model Town incident had petitioned the single bench for making the report public.
The provincial government, through its home secretary, had challenged the decision, claiming it had privilege on deciding whether to release the report or not.
The government’s private counsel, Khawaja Harris, had also questioned the single bench’s decision on technical grounds, saying that legal requirements had not been fulfilled before deciding the case. He complained that the single bench had not listened to the government’s view and decided the case in haste.
Advocate Harris had argued that release of the Najafi report would lead to a media trial parallel to trial proceedings already pending before other courts, adding that the Model Town inquiry report had become a “dead document” as its purpose stood exhausted.
On the other side, Barrister Syed Ali Zafar, Advocate Khwaja Tariq Rahim and Advocate Azhar Siddique had advanced arguments on behalf of the heirs and in favour of the single bench’s judgement.
They had argued that the government had been wrongly claiming that release of the Najafi report would prejudice the trial of any person or obstruct the administration of justice. They had said the report was not binding upon any person and was for the information of people as it was for the investigators/prosecutors as well as the trial court to rely on its contents or not.
They had mainly based their arguments on their right to information, terming it the mother of all fundamental rights.
Before closing the hearing, the full bench had observed that it would consider possible effects on society and trial judges while deciding whether the report of the judicial inquiry should be made public or not.
The Najafi report
The judicial commission, formed in 2014 to investigate the Model Town incident, had held the government responsible for the tragedy, saying that the police had acted on the government's orders, which led to the bloodshed.
The report said that the affidavits of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah contained contradictions regarding the orders they reportedly issued to police to disengage, and declared that what happened on the ground did not match their claims.
Contents of the report, which the government had deemed secret, were first revealed by an anchor of a private television channel and were confirmed to Dawn by independent sources.
According to the report, Sharif had claimed in his affidavit that he had ordered police to disengage in Model Town. However, the chief minister had not mentioned this in the press conference that he addressed after the fiasco.
“It seems the word ‘disengagement’ was an afterthought to save the chief minister,” the sources had quoted the report as saying.
According to the sources, the report said the action in Model Town was taken under the orders of the government and that the police were responsible for it.