Lawyers across the country, on the call of legal bodies, are boycotting courts on Friday to protest against the registration of cases against those lawyers who were arrested for their involvement in the rampage at Lahore's Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) earlier this week.
The legal bodies are demanding "immediate release" of those arrested.
The lawyers are responding to a strike call by the Pakistan Bar Council. A notification issued by the PBC yesterday said the protest was "against partial and biased conduct of the local police and the administration of Lahore against the lawyers as well as action taken by the Islamabad High Court against the Secretary-General, Islamabad High Court Bar Association."
The lawyers' joint action committee formed on the matter said that lawyers will not appear in courts today. They claimed that the arrested lawyers were tortured by police and demanded their immediate release.
The Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBAP) and various local bar associations have also given strike calls today.
On Wednesday, lawyers had staged a violent protest at the PIC 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 social media. The incident had resulted in three deaths as the condition of some critical patients deteriorated in the absence of doctors after the lawyers barged into the hospital and damaged equipment and broke windows and doors.
In the aftermath of the attack, police arrested 81 protesters. On Thursday, an anti-terrorism court in Lahore sent over 46 of them on judicial remand while turning down a police request for their physical remand to investigate charges of attacking the PIC.
The Shadman police had lodged two FIRs against 200-250 lawyers which included Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
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 site of the incident, in addition to registering FIRs against them.
SCBAP rejects 'unlawful allegations'
In a statement, the SCBAP said the bar association "through a unanimous resolution strongly rejects and condemns the unlawful allegations posed on [the] legal fraternity" in the wake of the PIC incident.
"SCBAP downrightly discards the allegations regarding direct involvement of lawyers community attacking the said hospital rather the lawyers' community gathered outside the PIC building to record peaceful protest against the unwarranted speech from the goons that have been hiding in the ranks of medical community that was the root cause of the reaction which provoked the whole legal fraternity," the statement read.
The SCBAP expressed "grave concern" over the "unlawful arrests" of lawyers and "torture [...] during their detention and inhumane behaviour with them by the Punjab police". They said the strike was also in solidarity with Umair Baloch
The high court on Thursday issued a show-cause notice to IHC Bar Association Secretary Muhammad Umair Baloch for "professional misconduct and contempt". The high court also suspended Baloch's licence "to practice before [IHC]" until the next hearing, which will be held on December 19.
Earlier on Friday while addressing a press conference in Lahore, former Supreme Court Bar Association president Hamid Khan condemned the PIC incident, saying it was "nothing short of a national tragedy".
He said that the lawyers' purpose was not to hurt anybody, adding: "It is perhaps not right to put all the blame for the incident on the lawyers."
Khan said that the government had left the matter regarding the lawyers and doctors pending for many days.
"Because of its neglect, the government [let] the matter escalate," he said.
Khan alleged that a "secret hand" which wanted to "ruin the system and deteriorate conditions" was behind the matter.
"Some powers want to destroy the legal community and bring dictatorship in the country," the SCBA member said, adding that lawyers do not have any animosity with doctors.
"Those who escalated this matter should be exposed."
Khan condemned the humiliation caused to lawyers by presenting them in the anti-terrorism court and the action taken against the Islamabad High Court Bar Association secretary-general. He called for the immediate release of all arrested lawyers.
Strict security arrangements have been made around the IHC where lawyers have gone on a strike.
All cases included in the cause list were called but lawyers were not present for the proceedings, resulting in the adjournment of hearings.
The IHC Bar Association has also decided to boycott the oath-taking ceremony for new judges.
A boycott is also being held by lawyers in Punjab. Rangers were deployed outside the Lahore High Court in light of the lawyers' protest. Some lawyers chanted slogans against doctors and media outside the LHC.
In addition to the PBC, the Balochistan Bar Council and Balochistan High Court Bar Association have given a call for strike, as a result of which lawyers across Balochistan are boycotting courts. In Quetta, lawyers carried black flags and wore black armbands.
The Sindh High Court Bar Association, Karachi Bar Association and Malir Bar Association supported the PBC's strike call.
Judicial activities at the Sindh High Court, city court in Karachi and other courts are being boycotted.
Additionally, lawyers are staging a protest at the main gate of the local high court. According to the SHCBA, lawyers will not appear in the courts today. The SHC chief justice, however, continued proceedings as per routine.
In Hyderabad, advocates didn’t appear in courts forcing judges to adjourn cases.
High Court Bar Association Hyderabad chapter president Nisar Durrani condemned PIC attack but said media should also present the other side of the picture. He condemned the FIR registered against the lawyers under the ATA.
The KP Bar Council is staging a strike for the fifth consecutive day.
For three days, the lawyers were protesting against the anti-narcotics law and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Code of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2019. Yesterday, they were protesting against the murder of a local PML-N leader and lawyer in Swat, Advocate Feroz Shah.
Today they are protesting on the call of the PBC in response to the arrests following the PIC attack.