'I've left it in the people's court': Ahsan says he won't seek charges against restaurant hecklers

Published July 9, 2022
Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal addresses press conference in Lahore on Saturday. — DawnNewsTV
Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal addresses press conference in Lahore on Saturday. — DawnNewsTV

Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal on Saturday said that he will not seek criminal charges against PTI supporters who heckled him at a restaurant in Bhera yesterday, pointing out he had left the matter in the "people's court" but lamented the "culture of hatred" that he said was introduced by Imran Khan.

Iqbal was jeered at and heckled by PTI supporters at the restaurant on Friday night. Viral videos of the incident circulating online show women and teenagers chanting anti-government slogans and hurling abuses at the minister, loudly calling him "chor".

In a tweet later, Iqbal said: "Today, a family — who apparently considered themselves elites and supported PTI — clashed with me. Instead of holding a dialogue with me they started chanting slogans,” he wrote, adding that as a counter-attack, other people present at the restaurant also started chanting slogans against the PTI."

He criticised former prime minister Imran Khan for "instilling a culture of hatred" among the people, adding that "just like their ignorant and lunatic leader, his supporters are following suit".

At a press conference in Lahore today, the minister said that the incident didn't affect his popularity but highlighted the culture Imran Khan was teaching his followers.

Iqbal stressed that the "disease of polarisation and hatred" in society was hollowing out Pakistan like "cancer". "I say this with disappointment that we expected Imran Niazi, who was a sportsman, to teach his supporters sportsmanship in the country's politics.

"But he did the opposite. His politics just spreads hatred in society. This poison is spreading so rapidly that if we don't counter it, the society will be steps away from anarchy and civil war — like Libya," he warned.

The minister went on to say that he had two ways to go about the incident. "The first was to register an FIR (first information report) against these people. Pakistan gives me the right to initiate proceedings under its law. But I have decided against it."

Instead, he said he was leaving the matter in the court of the public. "In the court of the people, I want to register a complaint against the leadership of the party that encourages this behaviour," Iqbal said, referring to the PTI.

Addressing PTI supporters, he urged them to carefully consider if their leader was as sincere to them as they were to him. "Imran Niazi has a track record of using people and throwing them away like tissue paper," he claimed.

Iqbal requested people to think if "you want your children to become victims of this hatred or want to pull them out of it".

He also thanked the people who condemned the incident and reached out to him with consolation messages. "I am a stern believer of freedom and democracy. The people of this country are very well-aware of my services for Pakistan and I don't need a PTI certificate to prove it," he added.

PTI says 'ordinary citizens angry'

Meanwhile, after the incident last night, PTI leaders negated Iqbal's claims regarding the PTI chairman. Former information minister Fawad Chaudhry suggested that the PML-N leader should "wear a burqa" and go out in public.

He also said that PML-N leaders were unaware of the ground realities. "People are against you because you came to power by stealing their political mandate. Social stability is possible only with political stability in the country," Chaudhary added, demanding immediate elections.

Ex-minister Hammad Azhar tweeted: "As per PML-N and its dependants, its okay to throw tear gas at peaceful citizens including women and children, order police to barge into residences without warrants, book people on fake FIRs."

"But raising slogans in McDonald's against an unpopular fascist govt is high treason," he added.

On the other hand, senior PTI leader Shireen Mazari, in response to a tweet by a journalist condemning the incident, said that ordinary citizens were fed up and angry.

At a press conference later in the day, PTI's Shahbaz Gill, in a rebuttal to Ahsan, said that protesting and raising their voice against something wrong was every citizen's right. "The law doesn't give you the permission to physically attack someone but there is nothing wrong in expressing your views. That is your right as per the law."

The former federal minister said that a thief would be called a thief. "If you don't like the word, suggest a better word for chor, we would call you that."

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