'No concessions': Punjab govt vows strict action against lawyers, others involved in Lahore protest

Updated December 11, 2019

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Punjab law minister Raja Basharat addressing a press conference in Lahore on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV
Punjab law minister Raja Basharat addressing a press conference in Lahore on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV

Punjab law minister Raja Basharat on Wednesday announced the government's decision to fully prosecute all those involved in the violent protest at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC).

"I assure you all, the government will see to it that no concessions are made," said the law minister, addressing a press conference alongside Punjab information minister Fayazul Hasan Chohan — who was assaulted by lawyers at the protest — and Punjab health minister Yasmeen Rashid.

"The government cannot allow anyone to take the law into their own hands. Those who tried to, will be held accountable."

He said that in this regard, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has said that the lawyers who were involved and others who have been identified in video footage of the protests "will all be prosecuted".

"He has clearly stated that none — who took the law into their hands — will be spared and legal action of the strictest kind will be taken against them," added Basharat.

"There is a need to end the high-handed culture which has begun to gain pace [in the country]," he said.

The minister, reiterating the government's stance, said that while doctors and lawyers are both respected members of society, "they can never be allowed to take the law into their hands."

He said a two-tier investigation has been launched into the incident. Part of the investigation will focus on whether the "police's negligence in enforcing the law" had a role to play.

Basharat said that the situation had been simmering since November "and the appropriate circles were not taken into confidence or apprised of the developments". "A separate investigation into this will take place," he said.

The minister condemned the mistreatment of Chohan and Rashid as they tried to defuse the situation at the protest venue.

"Their presence at the hospital was evidence of the fact that the government tried their utmost to not remain detached from the situation," he said, adding, "Had they not been present, we could have witnessed a far worse outcome."

The law minister asked lawyers to "show restraint". "If they are able to show contrition for their wrongdoing, their honour will not be diminished."

Asking doctors, too, to exercise restraint, he urged them to call off their decision to boycott hospital emergency wards. "Those who come seeking treatment are at no fault. For innocent citizens to bear the cost of someone's high-handedness will be a great injustice."

'I laud the media for rescuing me'

Chohan was next to address the press briefing. Recounting the events, he said that he and Basharat had both been instructed to go to the protest venue "and handle the situation".

He said that he had the impression that lawyers were "a learned community" and that he would be able to sort out differences between the doctors and lawyers as an arbitrator and "cool things down".

Punjab information minister Fayazul Hasan Chohan speaking to the media. — DawnNewsTV
Punjab information minister Fayazul Hasan Chohan speaking to the media. — DawnNewsTV

"My life was at stake. They tortured me and even fired shots at me and tried to kidnap me," claimed the Punjab information minister, saying that the full depth of the incident was not shown on media.

"They made a proper plan, saying, 'Pick him up'. Two people tried to lift me up from my legs."

The minister expressed his gratitude and paid tribute to the Lahore media for "playing a very positive role". "Some of your reporters got me out of there."

He said the next 15 minutes were spent with the police in convincing them to refrain from shelling, firing and stone-pelting the protesters. "The chief minister had issued explicit instructions that this not turn into a Model Town-like incident."

Chohan said the protesters were dispersed using water cannons, "without any firing, without use of shells, without any injury to anyone", over a half-a-mile distance.

"I personally got involved in the arrest of 10 lawyers," he added.

The minister then went on to allege that PML-N activists were partly responsible for the chaos that ensued upon his arrival. "One of them has been identified and is close to the Sharif family."

"This was a conspiracy to create lawlessness in Punjab under the umbrella of the lawyer community."

The minister also paid tribute to lawyers including Aitzaz Ahsan and Ali Zafar "who accepted on TV that the lawyers should have respected my role as an arbitrator and allowed for things to be settled".

"This is the mark of a true guardian of the law," he said, expressing hope the lawyer community would continue to keep its distance from the "black sheep" and protect its reputation.

Chohan said that the government will compensate the heirs of the "martyred patients" and doctors who bore material losses such as vehicular damage.

'No amount of condemnation can encompass what occurred'

Rashid, in her briefing, regretfully informed the media that three people had died as a result of the violence.

"One woman was being resuscitated, one patient was admitted to the CCU 3 ward and one was in the emergency ward since yesterday and had been quite stable but got a cardiac arrest.

Punjab health minister Yasmeen Rashid briefing the media. — DawnNewsTV
Punjab health minister Yasmeen Rashid briefing the media. — DawnNewsTV

"Due to the thrashing of doctors going on, the staff fled the scene," she said, describing the circumstances which led to the three deaths.

The health minister expressed great remorse over the fact that an "educated section of society" had behaved in the manner they did.

"It could not have been more shameful than this. I regret that they did not even pause to think about what they were doing. They were so enraged that all reasoning had just left them," she said.

She said that the lawyers' "hooliganism" went on for about two hours before police arrived to break up the protest.

"No amount of condemnation can encompass what occurred. Even in wars, a red cross is placed on hospitals to ward off bomb attacks.

"But our learned lawyer brothers, who are guardians of the law, broke all barriers of lawlessness."