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ISLAMABAD: An Islamabad sessions court on Friday charged Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers by invoking the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

The court ruled that the supporters of the ousted prime minister had incited public outrage to a point where it could be construed as an act of terror.

Following the Supreme Court’s verdict that saw Nawaz Sharif disqualified from politics for life, PML-N loyalists were out on Constitution Avenue chanting anti-judiciary slogans, particularly targeting Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar.

District and Sessions Judge Sohail Nasir invoked section 7 of the ATA and rejected bail applications filed by Chaudhry Mohammed Rafique and Malik Akhtar Mehmood.

Supporters of ousted PM incited public outrage to a point where it could be construed as act of terror, sessions judge says

On July 28, 2017, the Supreme Court (SC) disqualified Nawaz Sharif from the office of the prime minister, and less than a year later, on April 13, 2018, declared that his disqualification under article 62 (1) (f) was for life.

PML-N party workers waiting outside the Supreme Court were not amused by the controversial verdict, and went into a rage, allegedly blocking Constitution Avenue.

The petitioners — Mr Rafique, and Mr Mehmood — who had filed for bail to the Islamabad sessions court were present in the mob.

According to the police report, about 25 workers of the PML-N had assembled near the parking gate of the Supreme Court building, objecting the verdict against Nawaz Sharif. Law enforcement personnel arrived on the scene and managed to disperse the mob, but they rallied again.

During the hearing to consider the bail applications, the sessions judge said that he had gone through the contents of the FIR, and that “both sides were directed to assist the court on whether it (the protest) was an act of terrorism” — which would fall under the ambit of the ATA.

Sessions Judge Nasir pointed out that the protesters were guilty of trying to discredit the chief justice and the judiciary in general. He said that according to the report, the mob had repeatedly said, “chief justice na manzoor”, “kala kanoon na manzoor” (we don’t accept the chief justice or these unfair laws). They blocked the road, caused a major inconvenience to the public and resisted the police.

The court order noted that the counsel of the petitioners argued that the ATA could not be invoked and that both Mr Rafique and Mr Mehmood had protested purely out of their disbelief over the court’s decision. Neither of the two, according to their legal representatives, had any intention to create problems for the public.

The court, however, observed that it did not get any valuable assistance from the prosecution.

The judge went on to say that the ATA may be invoked in an event, which “creates a serious risk to the safety of the public or a section of the public, or is designed to frighten the general public and thereby prevents them from coming out and carrying on their lawful trade and daily business, and disrupts civil (civic) life; and involves serious coercion or intimidation of a public servant in order to force him to discharge or to refrain from discharging his lawful duties.”

Subsequently, the court held that the “facts of the case do attract the provisions of section 7 of the ATA”.

Considering this was a sessions court — which cannot assume the authority of the Anti-Terrorism Court — it did not have the jurisdiction to entertain the bail applications.

The court adjourned further proceedings till May 29 and advised the petitioners to approach the court of competent jurisdiction.

The judge also noted that the investigating officer, Inspector Abdul Jabbar, had not bothered to collect the video clips of the protests from the electronic media.

The court order explained that the criminal acts of the petitioners — and other accused in the case — against the highest constitutional forum of the country had incited both panic and fear in the public.

The court questioned how the district judiciary would be able to perform its duties in such a toxic environment, and this — the court said — was an “ingredient” of an offence of terrorism.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2018