ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday restrained the police from apprehending rights activist Imaan Zainab Mazari and Baloch students in connection with the First Information Report (FIR) registered against them for staging a protest over the disappearance of a Baloch student.

The court directed the secretary interior, the chief commissioner, the inspector general of police Islamabad and the secretary Ministry of Human Rights to appear before the court and justify the excessive force used against peaceful young citizens followed by registration of a criminal case.

The court ordered them “to satisfy the Court, having regard to the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. In case they fail to satisfy the Court, then they are expected to identify the officials responsible for violating the rights of members of a peaceful assembly and the mode for ensuring their accountability.”

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah observed: “Acts of violence and amounting to sedition on part of State functionaries are unpardonable and intolerable.”

Petition says police, district admin misuse powers to suppress voices of dissent and right to hold peaceful assembly

He restrained the police from “harassing any citizen or causing arrest pursuant to registration of the aforementioned FIR till the date fixed.” Further hearing in the matter was adjourned till March 6.

The petitioner, Ms Mazari, is an enrolled advocate of the court. She invoked the jurisdiction of the IHC asserting that the police and the district administration had misused their powers in order to suppress voices of dissent and the right to hold peaceful protest.

The petition stated that students of Quaid-i-Azam University, mostly belonging to the province of Balochistan, had arranged a peaceful meeting near the National Press Club to raise their voice against the alleged enforced disappearance of a student, Hafeez Baloch.

The petition said the respondents transgressed their powers by using excessive force to disperse the peaceful protesters.

It alleged that several participants of the peaceful assembly received injuries.

It said the petitioner received information through the electronic media that a criminal case had been registered against her and the other peaceful participants of the assembly.

Faisal Kamran, senior superintendent of police (SSP), was present in the court in relation to another case.

In response to the court’s query, the SSP confirmed that a criminal case dated March 1, 2022, had been registered under section 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 147 (rioting), 149 (unlawful assembly, 186 (obstructing public service), 188 (disobedience), 353 (assault on public servant), 500 (defamation) and 504 (insult) of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

The court observed that a plain reading of the FIR shows that prima facie the public functionaries had abused powers vested in them merely to disperse a peaceful assembly of young citizens.

“Raising slogans, no matter how harsh, by no stretch of the imagination, can be treated as a criminal conspiracy or an offence. The offences mentioned in the FIR also show that, prima facie, an attempt has been made to create a chilling effect to discourage dissent and expressing grievances stemming from the acts or inaction of the State,” the court order stated.

Such abuse of power is intolerable in a society governed under a constitution, it said.

The court added that “it is seditious to suppress voices of dissent or to discourage raising grievances against the State, its institutions or the public functionaries. Moreover, young citizens, particularly belonging to the province of Balochistan ought to be encouraged by the State and public functionaries to express themselves and to create an enabling environment so that they may participate in political debates, uninhibited and without any fear.”

Justice Minallah observed that suppression of or interference with peaceful assembly through use of force and abuse of power is the most grave transgression and breach of the fiduciary duty, which the public functionaries owed to each citizen.

The court noted that such abuse of power is not the first case that had been brought before the court. The repeated abuse of powers to target certain classes and to suppress dissent, criticism and political debate is intolerable in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which is governed under the Constitution.

The court also issued notice to the attorney general for assistance.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan Bar Council and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) condemned the use of force against the Baloch students and invoking the section related to criminal conspiracy against them.

Report sought on arrest of siblings

The IHC chief justice also took up a petition filed by Syed Pervaiz Zahoor against the arrest of his son Ali, a serving inspector of the Balochistan police, and daughter Barishna Pervaiz on Thursday night. 

Mr Zahoor, a former deputy inspector general (DIG), is an enrolled advocate of the Supreme Court. 

Islamabad High Court Bar Association (IHCBA) President Shuaib Shaheen and Advocate Javed Akbar Shah appeared on behalf of the petitioner. 

Mr Shah claimed that since the petitioner was a close confidant of Akhtar Mengal of BNP (Mengal), the FIR was registered as political victimisation. 

SSP Faisal Kamran told the court that the siblings were arrested pursuant to registration of the FIR. 

He said they were accused of selling liquor and the police in a late night raid on their house recovered about 50 bottles of liquor. 

Justice Minallah wondered how the police could know about presence of liquor in bedrooms of citizens. However, he directed the SSP to hold an inquiry and submit a report by Monday.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2022

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