Banning of TLP under terror laws stirs legal debate

Published April 16, 2021
Local administration places a container in front of Serena Chowk in Islamabad as banned TLP plans protest after Friday prayers. — Photo by Mohammad Asim
Local administration places a container in front of Serena Chowk in Islamabad as banned TLP plans protest after Friday prayers. — Photo by Mohammad Asim

ISLAMABAD: The federal government’s decision to ban Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) under the terrorism laws has sparked a raging debate with many wondering whether prohibition will sustain approval from courts.

At the same time, legal observers are also sceptical about the executive’s decision of disbanding a political party under the terrorism laws – an attempt that has the potential of undermining the rights of other political parties on the whims of the government.

Senior counsel Salman Akram Raja feared that proscribing an entire political party could end up taking the same course against other opposition parties for achieving a short-term gain by the government.

Political parties do indulge in agitation and blocking of roads or bringing out processions to achieve a political cause, so there must be certain safeguards against the rights of other political parties, he suggested.

There is no denying the fact that parties which indulged in acts of terrorism and vandalise public properties must be dealt with iron hands but it is dangerous to take a decision without adhering to proper legal procedures on acts of certain individuals, he said.

Legal observers say move may undermine rights of other political parties

He also said how during the 2014 PTI-PAT sponsored agitation, the SSP Islamabad was attacked but no action was initiated against the responsible, he said.

Mr Raja highlighted the need for adopting a proper legal course that should be free from all lacunas for disbanding a political party.

However, some lawyers also suggested that the move against the registered political party with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that even bagged a couple of seats in the Sindh assembly may have been a first step before a proper reference to the Supreme Court for its permanent dissolution.

Section 212 of the Elections Act 2017, which deals with the dissolution of a political party, requires a proper reference to the Supreme Court within 15 days after making a declaration that the concerned political party was indulging in acts of terrorism or a foreign aided party or operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan.

Since the proceedings before the apex court is a long drawn exercise before the concerned political party could disband eventually, there is a need to proscribe the party first under ATA, said senior counsel Faisal Hussain Chaudhry.

The decision on the recommendation of the Punjab government also tends to highlight the long forgotten Feb 6, 2019, Supreme Court judgment on the 2017 TLP Faizabad sit-in in which Justice Qazi Faez Isa had issued a number of directions to the authorities, including ECP.

“Is it not interesting that the government now taking action against TLP, which Justice Isa had recommended in the Dharna judgment, ie ascertain the people backing it and their source of funds,” said Sindh High Court Bar Association President Salahuddin Ahmed.

The 2019 verdict had reminded ECP that the constitution earmarks responsibilities on the commission that if a political party does not comply with the law governing political parties it proceed against it.

Moreover, the verdict had directed criminal prosecution against individuals issuing edicts or fatwas that harm or put another in harm’s way under the Pakistan Penal Code, Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 and/or the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016. To advocate Asad Raheem, the only course to permanent solution against a political party taking law into their hands and indulging in acts of terrorism is reference to the Supreme Court.

The latest decision could be challenged before superior courts under Article 17 of the Constitution on the grounds that disbanding an entire political party for acts of terrorism by a few individuals breaches the fundamental rights of the party.

Though he conceded that the political party could remain proscribed for an indefinite period under ATA, Advocate Raheem said the government seems to have adopted the same course which the government of late president Ayub Khan had taken by banning the Jamaat-i-Islami in the ‘60s.’ Chaudhry Faisal Hussain was of the view that banning the party by invoking ATA may be the first step towards moving for the complete dissolution of the political party under Section 212 of the Elections Act 2017 because filing of the reference until its conclusion by the Supreme Court will take quite some time.

I believe government’s earlier entering into an agreement with TLP’s dictated conditions was a mistake from the very beginning, he added.

By banning, the Tehreek is no longer a political party and therefore their bank accounts could be seized and they will not be allowed to collect funds or indulge in any kind of organising gatherings or conducting political activities, he explained.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2021

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