• Deaths of critical patients as attendants, doctors run for safety
• Police van torched; property damaged; provincial information minister manhandled
• Punjab bar council announces boycott of courts against arrest of protesters
• Young doctors seek Punjab health minister’s resignation over ruckus
LAHORE: Hundreds of charged lawyers on Wednesday attacked the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), allegedly tortured doctors and attendants and damaged hospital property and forced the critical patients to rush for life, according to police and witnesses.
The raiders were apparently on a mission to avenge a group of lawyers, who had been beaten up at the PIC a few weeks ago, soon after some video clips went viral on the social media showing some doctors making fun of the lawyers while recalling the incident.
The outraged attackers, mostly young faces dressed in black suits and sporting neckties, spared no one present on hospital premises, where several serious cardiac patients are under treatment at any given time.
Witnesses told Dawn there was chaos as beds were hastily dragged to hideouts, in a few cases the washrooms down the corridor away from the wards, after the mob carrying clubs and rods forced its entry into the government-run hospital.
One of the known victims of the frenzy was Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, who was manhandled when he arrived for damage control. Many journalists, including a woman, and police personnel besides attendants of the patients were also dealt with brute physical force. The attackers also snatched cameras from the journalists.
The police acted on finding the information minister under attack by lawyers and fired tear gas, baton-charged before arresting many protesters. Fierce clashes broke out between the protesting lawyers and law enforcers after a police van had been set on fire. There were reports that some protesters in the mob carried weapons and fired into the air.
The situation worsened when a mob stormed into the emergency department, seemingly in search of some doctors. In view of the approaching danger, the doctors fled the scene.
As condition of some critical patients deteriorated in the absence of doctors, four PIC patients, including a girl and an elderly woman, died reportedly during the time extreme fear reigned over the hospital. A spokesperson for the health department, however, said three patients breathed their last while the PIC was under siege. He said it would be premature to fix responsibility for the deaths, as the patients were under treatment for ‘very serious’ ailments.
The latest and perhaps one of the biggest violent protests by lawyers in Lahore, which caused fear among medical fraternity in particular and public in general, came only weeks before the crucial bar elections.
In the backdrop of the attack on the hospital in the presence of a heavy contingent of police, the doctors withdrew their services at in-patient and out-patient departments as well as emergency wards of all public-sector hospitals of Punjab. In the wake of ruckus, the young doctors called for the resignation of health minister Yasmin Rashid.
CCTV and mobile phone footage that later surfaced showed the size and intensity of the attack during which many vehicles parked at the hospital on Jail Road were damaged. As the visuals were shared on the media, police came under severe criticism for failing to protect the hospital employees, patients and property. The Punjab government later called in the Rangers to take control of the situation.
What provoked the lawyers?
Whereas any justification for the violent actions by the lawyers seemed impossible, the protesters claimed that the legal fraternity was provoked by several video clips doing the rounds on social media. They showed some doctors making fun of the lawyers after some hospital staff had thrashed a group of lawyers over a dispute at the PIC.
A more recent video clip that showed a young doctor speaking ‘boastfully’ about his encounter with the lawyers could well have proven to be the last straw on the camel’s back. In this video, he was talking about an FIR registered against doctors, paramedics and security guards of the PIC after they allegedly subjected some lawyers to torture and injured five of them. The lawyers had visited the PIC for treatment of a colleague on Nov 20.
Additional IG (Operations) of Punjab Police Inam Ghani told Dawn they arrested some 40 protesting lawyers on charges of damaging public property, attacking doctors and government employees and over a breakdown of law and order.
The police were going to register two separate cases against the attacking lawyers; one on a complaint of the hospital management and the other at the request of law enforcers for setting fire to police vehicle and injuring security personnel.
The additional IG, however, said no decision was taken to register the cases under anti-terror law, as the SC had given a ruling in this regard.
The officer said the police had tried to avert the attack by making a human chain. He said force was used as the last resort.
Boycott of courts
The lawyers’ representatives abstained from condemning the act of violence inside the PIC rather called it a reaction to police inaction over the torture of lawyers at the hospital in November.
The bar blamed the police and doctors for resorting to violence.
Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) President Chaudhry Hafeezur Rehman and other office-bearers later called on Chief Justice-designate Mamoon Rashid Sheikh and discussed the situation.
The bar representatives demanded immediate release of the arrested lawyers.
An emergent meeting of the Punjab Bar Council (PbBC), presided over by its vice chairman Shahnawaz Ismail, observed that the lawyers had been holding peaceful demonstrations, demanding arrest of the accused doctors, but the authorities failed to pay any heed. It said the lawyers also had staged peaceful protest demonstrations outside the civil secretariat and the IG office, but in vain.
The bar council said a video of a ‘provoking’ speech by a doctor namely Irfan went viral on the social media wherein he tried to humiliate the lawyers and their peaceful protests.
It condemned ‘criminal’ silence on part of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) and Young Doctors’ Association (YDA) and failure to take any punitive action against the doctors involved in the incidents.
The bar council gave a call for complete boycott of courts in the province on Thursday (today) and demanded arrest of doctors nominated in the FIR of the November incident and those allegedly involved in the Wednesday episode. It said lawyers would take out rallies across Punjab till the release of their colleagues and the arrest of the doctors.
In a late night development, the Punjab government said it had managed to broker peace between the two parties over the dispute. The lawyers deny a patch up.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2019