The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday allowed Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) to go ahead with its sit-in on Lahore's Mall Road today, but with certain conditions — including ending the sit-in by midnight.
The judgement was announced on a petition filed against the PAT-led protest being held today.
"Media should not cover the dharna after 12am," court said in the verdict which had been reserved earlier in the day. "Lahore police should provide full security to the sit-in but the provincial government can take action if the sit-in gets violent."
Justice Aminuddin Khan, reading the verdict, stressed that the sit-in should remain peaceful, and added: "No one should be allowed to take the law into their own hands".
In a written order released later in the afternoon, the LHC asked the organisers of the protest to make sure government property is not harmed during the protest and that children do not attend the gathering. Organisers will be held responsible for any damage to public or private property, the order added.
The LHC also asked the organisers to ensure participants do not cross any security barriers or attempt to enter the Punjab Assembly.
The order said that there should be no alternate entrance to the location and no shops and businesses should be forcefully shut down.
The guidelines further stated that no flags belonging to any political party or country should be set alight during the protest and no objectionable slogans should be raised.
The guidelines barred political slogans from being raised in the gathering.
The court said that the responsibility of the protesters being kept away from the Mall Road fell on Punjab government but it had made no efforts in this regard.
It also asked the traffic police to ensure a smooth flow of traffic while asking the organisers to cooperate with them. The LHC also gave the law enforcement and security agencies the right to comprehensively search any individual they suspect.
The guidelines also said that a list of the protesters should be provided to the police and the provincial government should make sure that all schools, businesses and offices remain open in the area on Thursday.
The PAT is set to relaunch its protest campaign to “force the PML-N out of power – both in the federal and provincial governments” ─ shortly and leaders of the PTI and PPP are expected to attend the inaugural rally on The Mall. The Jamaat-i-Islami and the PML-Q, too, have pledged their support.
A petition against the rally was filed by Advocate AK Dogar in the name of the lawyers' forum yesterday and was accepted for hearing. The petition had noted that protests called by political parties are against Article 124 of the Constitution. It added that such protests may cause disruption in the country.
Earlier today, a three-member larger bench, headed by Justice Aminuddin Khan, had heard arguments from the petitioner and the lawyer representing PAT.
During the hearing, the court had noted the importance of the fact that residents of the provincial capital were unable to reach hospitals and schools due to the rally.
In preparation for the rally, the Mall Road was closed to traffic for the most part of Tuesday, creating hazards for commuters. Yesterday, police facilitated PAT workers in transporting a container, hundreds of chairs and large screens for showing documentaries of the Model Town incident, and the sound system to the venue.
Early Wednesday morning, the stage was set and other arrangements were complete for the rally.
Advocate General Punjab Shakeel Rehman and former governor of Punjab Lateef Khosa were present in the courtroom for today's hearing. The home secretary, however, was not present in court and his absence was noted by the bench.
"He has a responsibility, he should have been here," the bench had remarked.
Presenting his arguments before the bench, Advocate Dogar had said that if the government is not able to ensure compliance with the laws, it should not govern.
"Protests have been held in the past, the government has been sleeping," he had said, adding that the government can use water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to stop the protest.
The petitioner had asked the court to order the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to direct media houses not to cover the protest so that it may die down itself.
"Democracy does not mean that the rights of the ordinary man are done away with," the bench had remarked.
The bench had asked Advocate Azhar Siddiqui, the lawyer representing PAT, if the party was holding a protest or a rally today.
In response, the petitioner said that he had heard PAT chief Tahirul Qadri say that the protest will continue until Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif resign.
"Now the matter has moved beyond resignations. PAT is now asking for the removal of the whole PML-N government," he added.
The advocate general told the bench that the organisers of the rally had been informed of the issues and the security risks involved.
The Punjab Government submitted a report on the PAT protest.