Govt blames PML-N for hospital attack

Updated December 13, 2019

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LAHORE: Lawyers involved in the hospital attack being taken to the anti-terrorism court on Thursday. — Online
LAHORE: Lawyers involved in the hospital attack being taken to the anti-terrorism court on Thursday. — Online

ISLAMABAD: As the incident of storming of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) was taken to the Supreme Court for constitution of a judicial commission to probe and punish those responsible for the rampage, the PTI-led government on Thursday shifted the blame of lawyers’ hooliganism in Lahore to the main opposition party — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz — and claimed that it was committed under a “planned and targeted” agenda.

The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) — lawyers’ top regulatory body — was also asked by a member to apologise to the nation for the attack on the PIC. Although PBC vice chairman Syed Amjad Shah deplored Wednesday’s unfortunate incident, he issued a countrywide strike call on Friday [today] against what he called “partial and biased” conduct of the Lahore police and administration against the lawyers.

In a related development, an anti-terrorism court in Lahore sent over 46 lawyers on judicial remand while turning down a request by police for their physical remand to investigate char­ges of attacking the PIC.

Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s core committee which reached a conclusion that the whole violent episode in and outside the PIC was backed by the PML-N.

SC urged to constitute judicial commission to probe and punish those responsible for rampage; 46 lawyers sent on judicial remand

“The facts shared by the Punjab chief minister and IG police with the PM are quite bitter: the violence and hostility showed by the lawyers [were] under a planned and targeted agenda,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said at a press conference after the core committee meeting.

“Majority of lawyers were those who have some links with a specific political party as PML-N lawyers added fuel to the fire and turned the lawyers’ protest into a turmoil,” she said, adding the government believed that the lawyers and doctors could not clash with each other unless there was a “political motive” behind it.

She said the meeting decided that the government would contact bar councils and lawyers’ bodies and urge them to remove “black sheep” from the legal fraternity.

The meeting, Dr Awan said, also lamented the role of doctors in the whole showdown. It regretted that on the one hand the lawyers, who were custodian of the law, violated it and, on the other, the doctors, who were saviour of humanity, had left critical patients helpless to save their [doctors’] own life. “The clash of both [lawyers and doctors] will increase problems,” she added.

When asked that a nephew of Prime Minister Khan was also among the troublemakers [violent lawyers], she said: “PM believes in the rule of law and the law will take its course without any discrimination.”

Asked if the local government (LG) system would also be put in place in cantonment boards across the country, she said: “It cannot happen that there will be LG system in urban areas but not in cantonment boards. There will be complete uniformity in this regard, but the timing of LG polls in cantonment areas can be different.”

SC intervention sought

The petition moved thro­ugh Advocate Tariq Asad requested the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter since the lawyers in Lahore would not be controlled by law enforcement agencies, not even by judges of the Lahore High Court.

The petition also pleaded that licence of the lawyers who have crossed the limits of decency be suspended forthwith and those who have been arrested and those who may be identified be dealt with in accordance with the law. It requested the apex court to also order registration of cases of murder and damaging of the property against the rampaging lawyers.

The petition contended that the assembly of lawyers for the ulterior motive of creating law and order and attacking the physicians and paramedical staff was against the law and in violation of Article 16 of the Constitution. Likewise, it said, the holding of unlawful procession and demonstration was also prejudicial to the law of the land and creating hazards to life causing deaths was in violation of Articles 9 and 14 of the Constitution.

The office-bearers of the Lahore Bar Association (LBA) constituting the unlawful assembly and leading the procession with mala fide intention are liable for the losses and deaths and miseries caused to the patients and their relatives in the hospital and they may be alleged as the principal accused, the petition contended.

The petition also pleaded that strike calls given by the lawyers be declared “against the law” and all the judges/presiding officers may be directed to sit in the courts in such circumstances and dismiss the cases for non-prosecution in such conditions.

Meanwhile, Raheel Kamran Sheikh, a senior member of the PBC, in a letter to the council regretted that a complete silence on the part of the top leadership of the bar, at best, showed their uncontrollable ambition for political power over morality and preservation of the conscience of the legal fraternity and, at worst, revealed their complacency.

“We are provoked, intimidated and mocked, so we lose self control and attack a cardiac hospital without realising that even the most black-hearted enemies in times of war do not attack hospitals,” the letter regretted.

“I am not sure if we will ever be able to overcome the loss caused by yesterday’s inglorious rampage, and it does not seem possible anywhere in the near future, however, in order to move forward, as a starting point, we must come out of the state of denial or justification in moral panic and learn to face the truth, how so ever bitter or uncomfortable that may be,” the letter said.

“Let us save our reputation, because our dignity and respect lie primarily in maintaining the perception and faith that we are a rational and conscientious segment of society who are defenders of their rights, freedoms and liberties and not violators thereof. Being an apex regulator, we must share at least part of the blame, for our failure to effectively and efficiently regulate education, training, ethical conduct and political ambitions of the members of legal fraternity and not resisting the regulatory capture,” the letter added.

Lawyers arrested

The Lahore police arrested 46 lawyers and produced them before the anti-terrorism court. The Shadman police had lodged two FIRs against over 250 lawyers under Sections 148, 186, 290, 291, 324, 353 and 436 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.

In a statement, PBC vice chairman Amjad Shah regretted that the local administration had arrested a large number of advocates, even those who were not present at the place of occurrence, besides registering FIRs against them.

Wajih Ahmad Sheikh in Lahore also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2019