IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah heard the plea and granted bail to 23 activists belonging to PTM and Awami Workers Party (AWP).
At the outset of the hearing, the Islamabad deputy commissioner and deputy inspector general of police informed the court that Section 124-A (sedition) of the Pakistan Penal Code had been deleted from the First Information Report (FIR) against the activists. Instead, the investigating officer has added Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997, in the case against them, the IHC was told.
The IHC in its written order noted that, "A plain reading of the FIR shows that the offences mentioned therein are, prima facie, not attracted. There is also no material on the record in support of the assertions made in the FIR."
The court also observed that Additional District and Sessions Judge Mohammad Sohail, who had last week declined to grant post-arrest bail to the PTM activists saying prima facie it was a terrorism case, "appears to have exceeded jurisdiction by making observations [regarding terrorism ...] without having regard to the recently enunciated law by the august Supreme Court regarding scope of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997".
"Moreover, the observations recorded by the learned judge are not in consonance with the principles of fair trial," the order said.
During today's hearing, Justice Minallah expressed his displeasure at the Islamabad police chief's absence from the court.
"We did not expect this of your government. You are the representative of the state here, it is the state's job to protect its people," Justice Minallah said to the deputy commissioner while adding that the government should admit if they are in the wrong.
"We will get to the bottom of this case. How could you question someone's patriotism? Do you think constitutional courts will shut their eyes on a matter like this?" the chief justice remarked while giving the deputy commissioner a week's time to consult the Islamabad IGP and come up with a report on the incident.
The chief justice had, on Saturday, sought an explanation from the capital police and the district administration for invoking the offence of sedition against these protesters.
The court had also ordered the Islamabad deputy commissioner and the police chief to produce the complete record related to the arrest of the activists on Feb 3 (today).
The counsel for the petitioners — Ammar Rashid and others — had contended before the chief justice that “the case has been registered against the petitioners on the basis of mala fide”.
He had also questioned the order issued by the additional district and sessions court dismissing the post-arrest bail petitions of the detained activists, saying it was “arbitrary and not in consonance with the settled principles of law”. Terming the district court's decision a serious miscarriage of justice, the counsel also said invoking offence of sedition against unarmed peaceful citizens was misuse of authority.
The hearing was adjourned until February 11.
Politicians, activists react to the activists' release
Various politicians and activists took to Twitter to welcome the IHC's decision to release the activists. Most users also hailed Justice Minallah's strong remarks regarding the addition of sedition charges to the FIR against the activists.
- Mohsin Dawar
PTM activist and member of National Assembly Mohsin Dawar congratulated the activists on their release.
- Afrasiab Khattak
PTM activist Afrasiab Khattak said that the court's orders are "important for rule of law and constitutional freedom".
"Will the misuse of draconian laws (dealing with sedition & terrorism) against peaceful pol dissent stop?" he asked on Twitter
- Aseefa Bhutto Zardari
Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto's daughter, also welcomed the order and said that the "pleas to do the same have been falling on deaf ears with this fascist government."
- Farhatullah Babar
PPP leader Farhatullah Babar said that Justice Minallah's observations were "very strong" and had "raised the hopes of rights activists".
"The strength it has infused needs to be channelised by human right defenders throughout the country," he added.