The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday disposed of petitions against the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl's (JUI-F) anti-government 'Azadi March' and instructed the local administration to decide on JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman's application to hold the march at D-Chowk in Islamabad.
The JUI-F had earlier filed an application with the district administration seeking permission for the Azadi March on Oct 27 and a protest demonstration in Islamabad. The date of the march was then changed to Oct 31.
After hearing a petition against the march, filed by local lawyer Riaz Hanif Rahi, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah instructed the Islamabad administration to look into the matter as per the law.
According to the written verdict, the citizens' right to protest is not unlimited. The IHC declared that no one can be deprived of the right to protest and no one can be allowed to usurp others' rights in the name of peaceful protest.
The court made it clear that the administration, keeping in view the law and order situation, can decide the route and venue of protests.
The high court declared that the state possesses the right to bar protests keeping in view the aspect of national security in some particular circumstances. The court also declared that staging peaceful protests is a constitutional right of unarmed people. It also ordered that the writ of the government should be maintained.
During the proceedings, Justice Minallah asked the petitioner what his demand was, in response to which Rahi reminded the court that Rehman had announced a march against the government.
"Do you mean he does not have the right to protest?" enquired the chief justice.
"You can protest against policy, not against a democratic government," Rahi responded.
The chief justice said that protesting was a fundamental right of every citizen and could not be ignored.
The proceedings were briefly adjourned as the court ordered that all petitions against the protest be combined and heard together.
Following the break, along with Rahi, another petitioner against the march, Hafiz Ihtisham Ahmed, also appeared in court.
Justice Minallah reminded them that protecting the fundamental rights of citizens was the job of the state.
He said that the state should protect the rights of protesters; additionally, he said, the state was also required to protect the rights of those who do not want to protest.
Justice Minallah recalled that in 2014, the same court had allowed the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to protest.
He asked one of the petitioners, Rahi, if he was there on behalf of the government, to which the petitioner said he was only there as an ordinary citizen.
"From your statements, it seems like you are here on the government's behalf," remarked the chief justice, noting that Rahi submits "so many petitions, he should one day submit one against corrupt people in the local judiciary [as well]".
Wrapping up the hearing, the court instructed the local administration to protect the rights of the protesters as well those of those who weren't protesting.