LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday put a ban on the media coverage of all kind of protests held on The Mall, a red zone, and also ordered the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to ensure its compliance.
Justice Jawad Hassan passed the order while hearing the petitions against a prolonged protest/sit-in by the employees of the Punjab Land Record Authority (PLRA) on The Mall.
The petitions were filed by Judicial Activism Panel and the Mall Road Traders Association, highlighting the people’s woes and business activities marred by the continuous protests on the road by visually impaired persons and the employees of the PLRA.
“The right to peaceful protest and procession is a fundamental right of all the citizens in a democratic country like us. But unfortunately, this right has been continuously misunderstood as a licence to create inconvenience for the general public. The protesters who claim to espouse their cause often forget that their right to protest ends when other person’s right to free movement and right of trade/business starts,” observed the judge in his order.
During the hearing, PLRA legal adviser Waqar Toor told the court that the protesters were contractual employees and they had been demanding regularisation of their services and increase in salaries. He said the contracts of several protesting employees had already been terminated and action under the Punjab Essential Services Act 1958 had been initiated against them.
However, the counsel stated that in order to end the protest, the authority would negotiate with them and in case of failure stern action shall be taken against the willful absentees and their contracts would be terminated.
DIG Operations Ashfaq Ahmad Khan told the court that police were complying with the previous judgments of the LHC in letter and spirit. He said police had been making all-out efforts to ensure smooth flow of the traffic in the city, especially on The Mall. He pointed out that the government, through a policy formulated in 2012, had declared the area from Mian Mir Bridge to PMG Chowk on The Mall a red zone and designated alternate space at Nasser Bagh and Attique Stadium for holding protests. He said appropriate legislation was required to avoid protests on The Mall.
The DIG also presented a list of the FIRs lodged against the persons holding protests in the red zone. However, he added, no case had been registered against the PLRA employees due to ongoing negotiation process.
To a court’s query, Home Department Section Officer Ahmad Bilal said the government had prepared a draft of ‘Red Zone Act’ to deal with the issue. He sought time from the court to present a copy of the draft before or on the next hearing.
Justice Hassan directed the officials concerned at the PLRA to negotiate with the protesters and resolve the issue to end protest by 2pm (Friday).
“Thereafter, the authorities concerned shall take stern action against any person who continue the protest after 2pm today and also terminate his contract because it violates the Constitution, laws, and judgments of this court,” said the judge.
Pemra head legal Tahir Farooq, present in the court, was ordered to ensure that no television channel would do coverage of the protest(s) being held on The Mall. The judge adjourned further hearing till Nov 25. Advocates Azhar Siddique, Khurram Latif Khosa and Abdullah Malik represented the petitioners.
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2019