SC wraps up govt's application drawing attention to violations during PTI's long march

Published May 26, 2022
PTI Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan waves to supporters during the Azadi March protest in Islamabad on Thursday. — AFP
PTI Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan waves to supporters during the Azadi March protest in Islamabad on Thursday. — AFP

The Supreme Court on Thursday wrapped up an application filed by the federal government drawing the court's attention to events from the previous day, claiming that PTI Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan had "violated" the apex court's orders with regard to the party's Azadi March.

A five-member bench, headed by Chief Justice (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, heard the petition which was filed by Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf.

Wrapping up the case, the chief justice said the court would issued a detailed judgement later which would set "an example for the future".

The bench said that the apex court's orders from Wednesday would remain in place.

A day earlier, the Supreme Court ordered the federal government and the PTI to constitute respective negotiating committees and meet at 10pm on Wednesday to finalise modalities for a peaceful and safe conduct of the party's long march to the capital.

However, negotiations were not held as both sides claimed the other had not shown up.

The committees were to meet at the Islamabad chief commissioner's office. It also ordered the government to designate a spot in H-9 where the protesters could rally. However, protesters converged on D-Chowk instead.

The same bench also wrapped up hearing a petition filed by Islamabad High Court Bar Association (IHCBA) president Muhammad Shoaib Shaheen that sought removal of blockades set up to stop the PTI's Azadi March.

At the start of the hearing, the chief justice said the bench had not been formed to accuse anyone but to protect constitutional rights.

He asked the attorney general whether he believed the court's directives had not been followed and some people had been injured after which law enforcement agencies took action.

He observed that Articles 16 (freedom of assembly) and 17 (freedom of association) of the Constitution ensured the right to protest but it was not unlimited.

The attorney general then requested the court's permission to play a video recording of Imran's address to his supporters which was granted.

AGP Ausaf argued that Imran told his supporters the SC had granted permission to protest at D-Chowk.

The chief justice questioned what happened after the PTI chairman's statement.

"Imran then asked his workers to reach D-Chowk," Ausaf replied.

"It is possible that the message was not delivered to Imran Khan properly," Chief Justice Bandial remarked. "The entire issue is [related to] a conflict. Judicial proceedings cannot be based on assumptions."

The attorney general argued that the PTI was granted permission to protest after assurances that the Azadi March would be peaceful.

The court had tried to establish trust between the parties involved through its orders a day earlier, the chief justice observed.

"The court made efforts for citizens' protection ahead of the protest yesterday. Court proceedings usually take place after the incident. The court took the responsibility of being a mediator."

Justice Bandial added that the PTI would also have "several" reservations with the government.

The attorney general argued that assurances given to the court were not followed, to which the CJP replied, "whatever happened yesterday has ended today."

He added that the court could not use the administration's authority, however, it was always available for the people's protection.

The court had stopped authorities from raiding people's homes for their protection and it would maintain its order, the chief justice said.

'Judgement to be example for future'

The chief justice directed the government to do its work in line with Wednesday's orders and said the SC would issue a judgement regarding the case which would be an "example for the future".

He observed that political workers did not have their own agenda and followed the party leadership.

"We are not conducting proceedings in order to accuse anyone," he iterated. "The court issued the order only against violation of constitutional rights."

Justice Bandial said it had come to the court's notice that shelling occurred yesterday.

The attorney general said the government had to call the Pakistan Army in the capital last night.

"The public's constitutional rights are not unlimited. The court order sought to strike a balance between the respondents," the chief justice remarked.

"The PTI has held 33 protests recently. All of them were peaceful. We expect the PTI to be aware of its responsibility."

AGP Ausaf informed the court that 31 policemen were injured in stone-pelting by the protesters yesterday while fire brigades and bulletproof vehicles were set on fire.

However, the chief justice replied that only the workers were clashing on the roads yesterday and not the leadership. "They set fire to protect themselves from tear gas. The leadership could have stopped the workers [but] it was not present."

The court did not have an agenda, he observed and advised the government and the PTI to build mutual trust if they wanted the court's "moral support".

'Common people showed irresponsibility'

"Political conflict always harms the country," Justice Bandial observed. "The court will intervene in any matter of a political nature only if there is a solid reason."

He further observed that "becoming a danger for the system after taking the law into [your] own hands could harm the country".

The chief justice told the attorney general that the government should continue its work in accordance with the law. "The government should not violate court orders," he directed.

AGP Ausaf informed the court that Imran had given a speech near D-Chowk today in which he gave the government a six-day deadline.

"He did not ask workers to go back. Government land worth millions was destroyed. If action is not taken, no one will implement assurances given to the court."

The chief justice recalled that a "similar" incident had taken place in the United States following presidential elections - a reference to the storming of the Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

"Common people were out yesterday and showed irresponsibility."

At one point, the attorney general informed the court that roads had been opened again and detained workers had been released.

Justice Bandial then asked whether the ground for the protest was still available to which the AGP responded, "The problem is [whether] the PTI will go to the ground."

The CJP said the court was dismissing the IHCBA petition because the roads had been opened again, adding that the matter would be taken up again if the court decided it was necessary.

"The political temperature is high. It would not be correct to intervene," Justice Bandial observed.

Azadi March 'not' a flop

Speaking to reporters outside the apex court, PTI's Babar Awan dispelled the government's assertions that the Azadi March was a flop, saying that yesterday the whole country was a jalsa gah.

He went on to say that Imran had issued strict instructions for yesterday's march to ensure discipline and rule of law. "We learnt that some people had decided to bring along the party's election symbol. They were told not to do so," he said. The PTI's election symbol is a bat.

Awan predicted that next time, double the amount of people would participate in the march. He also explained the "wisdom" behind Imran's six-day deadline to the government, saying that it was so that no one could claim the party intended to violate the Constitution at any point.

He asserted that it was their right to protest against the imported government, highlighting how political parties had staged similar rallies during the PTI's tenure.

The PTI leader also said that the party did not want to give "the final push" to the economy and wanted to prevent a Sri Lanka-type situation from happening.

SC order encouraged PTI: Maryam

Talking to the media in Lahore, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz said the government had everything under control but the Supreme Court order allowing the PTI to go ahead with its rally had afforded it "freedom". However, she said she was glad since it had "exposed their (PTI's) real agenda of discord".

"They (PTI) made use of the encouragement they received from the SC order. Islamabad was burnt and I was saddened when I heard remarks [from today's SC hearing] that maybe Imran Khan didn't get the right message."

She claimed that the PTI was fully aware of the SC's order limiting its protest to F9 park but still went ahead towards D-Chowk. "Their agenda was discord," she said.

Regarding the chief justice of Pakistan's comments that the crowds behind last night's burning and vandalism were "leaderless", Maryam said she wanted to remind the top court of PTI leaders' statements wherein they billed their rally as a "bloody march".

She subsequently urged the Supreme Court to review its verdict.

Sana says PTI 'misled' court

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said Imran had "misled" the Supreme Court by taking permission for holding the rally at a specific place in the capital (sector H-9) but later announcing it would be held at D-Chowk.

"Imran kept defying the SC orders and committing contempt of court from his container all night," he added.

Sanaullah called on the apex court to give clear directions for establishing the writ of the state and the Constitution so the "chaotic group" could be expelled from Islamabad.

The SC's order on Wednesday came on Shaheen's petition which was heard by a three-judge bench consisting of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi.

The authorities were also told to release the PTI workers and supporters arrested in the last 48 hours but not involved or accused in any heinous crime. The court also restrained the authorities from midnight raids at residences, offices and private properties for rounding up PTI workers till further orders.

Federal ministers Azam Nazeer Tarar and Ayaz Sadiq, in a press conference held later on Wednesday, claimed that the PTI team did not negotiate with the government.

However, PTI leader Babar Awan on his part claimed he had reached the chief commissioner's office at exactly 10pm but found no one from the other side there. He said he had then left the venue, as he could not wait for the other team.

Sources in the capital administration told Dawn the PTI leadership was displeased over the arrests of its leaders, including two who were supposed to be part of the negotiating team.

The PTI negotiating committee consisted of Babar Awan, Aamir Kiani, Faisal Fareed Chaudhry and Ali Awan. Similarly, the government side was represented by former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani, Ayaz Sadiq, Faisal Sabzwari, Asad Mahmood, Azam Nazir Tarar, Agha Jan and Khalid Magsi.

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