'This is Pakistan, not India,' says IHC chief justice after cases against AWP, PTM protesters dropped
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday wrapped up the bail petitions of 23 workers of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and Awami Workers Party (AWP), who were arrested by the Islamabad police last month while protesting against the arrest of PTM chief Manzoor Pashteen.
As IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah resumed the hearing of bail petitions filed by the 23 protesters, Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat told the court that all charges against the protesters had been dropped.
On the basis of the deputy commissioner's statement, the IHC wrapped up the bail petitions of the protesters.
"After the statement of the Islamabad administration, all petitions have become ineffective," said Chief Justice Minallah.
On February 2, the court was told that Section 124-A (related to sedition) had been deleted, but Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997 had been inserted in the First Information Report (FIR) against the protesters.
Following this, the IHC on Tuesday had sought an explanation from a magistrate for invoking sedition charges against those who were taken into custody during the protest.
During today's proceedings, the IHC chief justice said: "We don't expect that a democratic government will curb freedom of expression."
"An elected democratic government cannot place curbs on freedom of expression. [We] shouldn't fear criticism," he remarked.
"The constitutional courts will protect the constitutional rights of the people.
"Everyone's constitutional rights will be protected. This is Pakistan, not India," Justice Minallah said.
"If you want to protest, get permission. If you don't get permission, the court is here," he said.
Islamabad Advocate General Tariq Mehmood Jahangir said that the country had been fighting terrorism for 20 years and the "secret agenda" of the protesters was worrisome.
"No one should say anything against the state," he said, adding that a written order against those who speak against the state or make hate speeches should also be issued.
Justice Minallah remarked that neither the state nor its institutions were "so weak" that mere words would have any impact.
The IHC chief justice noted that the current government had itself challenged Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code — a law concerning the maintenance of public order — when President Arif Alvi had challenged it in 2014.
"[I] hope that they will not take away rights," he added. "The country is a democracy, let the Parliament decide."
Later, AWP activist Ammar Rashid, one of the protesters who had been arrested, took to Twitter to share that the state had withdrawn the FIR and all charges against them.
"Thank you to all who stood with us in solidarity. Hope this sets a lasting precedent against the criminalisation of dissent, peaceful protest & freedom of expression in our country," he added.