KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Thursday ordered that the 20-point standard operating procedures (SOPs) formulated by the president of Pakistan with the consensus of ulema be followed in letter and spirit in all mosques and Imambargahsacross the province for all prayers.

The two-judge bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar observed that Juma, Eid, Taraweeh/shabeena and all other prayers must be observed in accordance with the SOPs.

When a petition, filed by a woman against restrictions on religious gatherings by the provincial administration, came up for hearing on Thursday, the petitioner filed a rejoinder and its copies were given to the additional advocate general (AAG).

She requested for time to address her arguments in opposition to the SOPs formulated by the president in consultation and consensus with ulema.

The additional advocate general of Sindh, Jawad Dero, and assistant attorney general Hussain Bhora submitted that with due consultation of ulema of all schools of thought, the SOPs were finalised by the president of Pakistan.

Sister denies Dr Aafia Siddiqui has refused to sign a mercy petition

Mr Dero further said that the Sindh government would apply the same to all mosques and Imambargahs throughout the province for Juma prayers, shabeena/Taraweeh and Eid prayers, adding that in a case related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court had also recently issued a directive for making a uniform policy in consultation with the National Coordination Committee, where the policy matters were being decided.

The bench noted that in its lockdown order issued on March 26, the Sindh government allowed only three to five persons designated for mosque (including pesh imam, muezzin, caretaker) to offer prayers and asked the public to offer prayers at home as per directions and guidance from the religious scholars. In another order issued on April 23 the provincial government further directed that Taraweeh prayers also be offered at home.

Similarly, the bench observed that in its April 2 order the provincial administration had imposed restrictions that the public not offer prayers in mosques and as per the order of March 26, with the exception of funeral, burial etc while adopting social distancing and to be attended by close family members only after informing the local SHO.

However, the AAG clearly stated that the restrictions imposed through these lockdown orders had been lifted and now the SOPs would be fully implemented.

“In view of the above position, it is ordered that 20 points SOP formulated and articulated by the President of Pakistan with the consensus of ulema of different sects will be followed in letter and spirit in all mosques and Imambargahs. Accordingly, all prayers, including Friday, Taraweeh/Shabina and Eid shall be observed in accordance with the conditions jot down in the SOP,” the bench concluded.

Plea for Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s release

The same bench was informed on Thursday that Dr Aafia Siddiqui had reportedly refused to sign a form for dispatching her mercy petition to the relevant authorities in the United States.

Dr Fauzia Siddiqui, a sister of the detainee, moved the SHC and submitted that Dr Aafia was currently confined to Carswell Prison Texas, USA, and sought directives for Pakistani authorities to make efforts for her release.

On Thursday, the petitioner informed the bench that she received a mail on May 2 from the attorney she had engaged in the US. The mail stated that the mercy petition for Dr Aafia had been filed with the warden of the prison whereas it was to be submitted to the pardon attorney in Washington while the comments filed by the ministry of foreign affairs said that the consul general planned to visit the detention facility to meet Dr Aafia.

However, the meeting was scheduled on May 27 which was cancelled due to the Covid-19 lockdown, as an alternative petition was sent to the prison to be sent to the authorities concerned after consent of Dr Aafia, but the jail authorities said she refused to sign the form for dispatching the petition.

The consul general has requested the prison authorities for consular access to the detainee at the earliest.

The petitioner further submitted that she had a copy of the mercy petition duly singed by Dr Aafia and complained that the Pakistani government had made some efforts but without taking into confidence her and other family members.

She wanted to place on record the mercy petition so that further proceedings could be conducted.

The bench observed that the comments filed by the deputy attorney general on April 22 clearly stated that Pakistan’s consul general in Houston had been in touch with the prison authorities on a regular basis to seek updates on the well-being of Dr Aafia and it was reported by the prison to the consul general that she was in good health.

The matter was adjourned till June 10 as the DAG submitted that they would continue to get updates on her health.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2020