The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday declared as illegal the detention of Saad Hussain Rizvi, chief of the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), approving a petition filed by Rizvi's uncle against his continued incarceration.
Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh announced the verdict after presiding over daily hearings for the past three days. The detailed judgement of the case is currently awaited.
Advocate Burhan Moazzam Malik argued on behalf of the petitioner — Rizvi's uncle Ameer Hussain — while lawyers for the Punjab and federal governments opposed the application.
Rizvi, son of the late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, was taken into custody under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance 1960 on April 12 over charges that he had incited his followers to take the law into their own hands as, according to him, the government had reneged on its promise to expel the French ambassador.
The party had been pressing the government for the expulsion of the French envoy to Pakistan ever since blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were published in France and their publication was supported by the French president.
During Thursday's hearing, Advocate Malik argued that Rizvi had not been provided with the reasons for being detained again under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. He said he had submitted five applications to the relevant government department to know the grounds for his detention but hadn't received a response.
He argued that solid grounds were required to incarcerate a suspect, adding that not a single case existed against Saad Rizvi before the year 2018.
The lawyer further said the right to protest was enshrined in the Constitution. "A protest simply means a protest; how can it be terrorism?" he asked.
He said TLP supporters had protested after Rizvi's arrest, while authorities were not willing to lodge a first information report (FIR) over the deaths of TLP workers.
According to Malik, approval was not taken from ministers according to the Rules of Business for Rizvi's extended detention, and their signatures were taken via WhatsApp.
He said because there were 24 cases against Rizvi, he could be kept in detention "endlessly" by obtaining 90-day remands in each case. He questioned why the TLP chief was kept in detention despite there being the option of physical remand.
Another lawyer for the petitioner, Advocate Mian Pervez, said the state had issued the notification for Rizvi's continued detention with mala fide intentions.
He urged the court to declare Rizvi's detention illegal and set aside the same.
Deputy Attorney General Asad Bajwa informed the court that Rizvi had been detained on July 9 under the Anti-Terrorism Act on the charge of spreading sectarianism.
On July 2, a review board of the LHC had rejected the Punjab Home Department's request to extend Rizvi's detention. It had released its detailed order in the case on July 8, observing that Rizvi should be "released forthwith" if he was not required in any other case.
Subsequently, Rizvi's uncle had filed a petition calling for the annulment of his “illegal detention” and claiming that there was no proof on record against him.
Rizvi's detention was supposed to end on July 10 in light of the review board's decision. However, the deputy commissioner of Lahore issued a fresh notification under Section 11-EEE (Powers to arrest and detain suspected persons) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 and detained Rizvi for 90 days.
Hussain subsequently filed another petition, claiming that the government had extended Rizvi's detention with "mala fide intention". The petitioner said the government had implicated Rizvi in 14 criminal cases after detaining him.
He asked the court to declare the act of the government illegal and order his nephew's release.
Rizvi's arrest and TLP protests
In November 2020, an agreement was reached between the TLP and the government — after the party held protests in the capital led by its then chief Khadim Rizvi — to involve the parliament in order to decide the matter of the French ambassador's expulsion in three months.
As the February 16 deadline neared, the government had expressed its inability to implement the agreement and had sought more time. The TLP had then agreed to delay its protest by two-and-a-half months to April 20.
A week before the deadline, Rizvi, in a video message, had asked TLP workers to be ready to launch a long march if the government failed to meet the deadline. The move had prompted the government to arrest him on April 12.
Police had swooped in on Rizvi at around 2pm on Wahdat Road in Lahore where he had gone to attend a funeral. Outraged, the TLP had issued a call for countrywide protests.
The next day, police registered a first information report against the TLP chief under sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Within the next few hours, protesters took to the streets in Lahore and blocked the Grand Trunk Road at a number of points.
The government had subsequently banned the TLP following the violent protests and sit-ins it staged across the country.