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Damning Najafi report puts Punjab govt in a tight spot

Updated December 06, 2017
LAHORE: Relatives of the victims in a thanksgiving mood as they feel vindicated after publication of the report on Tuesday.—White Star
LAHORE: Relatives of the victims in a thanksgiving mood as they feel vindicated after publication of the report on Tuesday.—White Star

• Tribunal sees cover-up after Model Town ‘massacre’
• Says police did what they had been sent to do
• CM Shahbaz ‘never ordered police to disengage’

LAHORE: The government of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was delivered a serious blow on Tuesday when the contents of the Justice Ali Baqir Najafi report were made public on orders of the Lahore High Court.

Recalling the gruesome events of June 17, 2014 in Model Town, Lahore, the one-man judicial tribunal, constituted to ascertain the facts and fix responsibility on the perpetrators, observed that the Punjab police had done exactly what “it went for”. The police, it said, had “actively” participated in the “massacre”, and keeping in view the “facts and circumstances, the reader of the report can easily fix the responsibility of the unfortunate incident”.

The tribunal, which investigated the killings of 14 Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers in Model Town, accused the Punjab government of concealing facts and hindering the investigation, while its officials tried to cover up for each other, preventing the tribunal from arriving at a definitive conclusion.

Dismissing the Punjab gov­ernment’s appeal, a three-judge LHC bench ordered that the Najafi report be made public. Ever since the report was submitted to the Punjab government on Aug 9, 2014, there have been incessant calls to make the report public even as the government remained reluctant to share the contents.

In its order on Tuesday, the LHC asked the Punjab government: “The copy of the inquiry report of Tri­bunal shall be supplied to the respondents for their inf­ormation, by concerned official, forthwith. The inquiry report of the Tribunal shall be published by the concerned authorities within 30 days from the announcement of this judgement.”

Later in the afternoon, the provincial government uploaded the report on one of its websites bringing to end speculation about whether the government would challenge the LHC order in the Supreme Court.

Read: Justice Najafi inquiry report: Punjab govt decides against challenging LHC verdict in apex court

The unveiling of the report drew contrasting responses from the PAT and the government. While the PAT leadership welcomed the LHC order, those standing by the Shahbaz administration, including the police force which was at the fore of the action that day, tried to play down the possible ramifications of the report by insisting that it had no legal implications.

Read: Judicial inquiry reports can’t be used for conviction or acquittal: law expert

The 132-page report recommends that the Punjab government draw up legislation to empower the magistracy to issue orders to fire at such occasions so that the responsibility for any such unfortunate incident could be clearly fixed in the future.

In its conclusions, the report noted that a meeting was held on June 16 (a day before the incident), which was attended by then law minister Rana Sanaullah, the chief secretary, home secretary, the commissioner of Lahore and the capital city police officer (CCPO) and representatives of the special branch. They decided “not to allow Tahirul Qadri to fulfil his objective (a sit-in in capital, which he had announced for June 23).”

It was the Lahore commissioner who pointed out that the “barriers” around Minhajul Quran were illegal and he “treated them as encroachment”. The chair (Mr Sanaullah) decided that those barriers must be removed and Tauqeer Shah (then secretary to the CM) “consented on behalf of the chief minister”.

The participants of the meeting had overlooked the fact that the barriers had been “placed after [seeking] permission from the High Court back in 2011 and [they] had been there for three years without any complaints from the residents”.

The meeting appears to have provided the context for the brutal action taken against the PAT workers the next day. On June 17, the police moved to remove those barriers, but a furious mob comprising sympathisers, mainly young men, pelted the police with stones. The police retaliated and resorted to firing at the protesters.

Read: Senior officials claim Justice Najafi report ignored police narrative

In a damning observation which could have dire political repercussions for the Shahbaz government, Judge Najafi wrote: “Admittedly, such level of offensive by police, by any stretch of imagination, was not commensurate with the level of resistance by the unarmed PAT workers.

“The operation planned and designed under the chairmanship of the law minister (Rana Sanaullah) resulted into gruesome killings could have easily been avoided. The police action of severely beating people on the crime scene is irrefutably suggestive that the police did exactly for which they were sent and gathered over there.”

About fixing responsibility on who had ordered the police to open fire, the report says that the level of cooperation they had received while trying to dig out the truth was evident from the fact that: “no police official from top to bottom, whether (he) participated in the operation or not, uttered a single word about the person under whose command the police resorted to firing. Understandably, all were in unison in withholding the information from this tribunal”.

On the lack of cooperation from the Punjab government, the tribunal reports that the government had attempted “to circumvent the process of digging out the truth. The entire gamut of facts and circumstances speak volumes that there was no good intention of the government to arrive at the definite conclusion”.

The judge said that CM Sharif’s claim that he had seen the stand-off (live) on television and ordered immediate “disengagement” was not a fact but an afterthought. He did not mention it even in his post-event press conference.

“The apathy and recklessness of authorities in the Punjab created genuine doubt about their innocence,” the report said.

It also noted that the Inspector General of Police and the District Coordination Officer of Lahore had been replaced right before the incident. “Such facts and circumstances lead to obviously adverse opinions,” the report concluded.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2017