'Azadi March' vandalism: PTI leaders withdraw bail pleas after Lahore police declare them innocent

Published August 5, 2022 Updated August 5, 2022 03:00pm
<p>A combination photo of PTI leaders Yasmin Rashid, Andleeb Abbas and Shafqat Mahmood (from left to right). — Radio Pakistan/DawnNewsTV</p>

A combination photo of PTI leaders Yasmin Rashid, Andleeb Abbas and Shafqat Mahmood (from left to right). — Radio Pakistan/DawnNewsTV

Several PTI leaders, including Dr Yasmin Rashid, Shafqat Mehmood and Andaleeb Abbas, withdrew on Friday their bail petitions in cases pertaining to violence and vandalism during the party's May 25 'Azadi March' after two courts in Lahore were informed that they were not found to be guilty during the police investigation.

Police had registered a multitude of cases against PTI leaders in several cities after they had marched to Islamabad for "true freedom", with at least 42 cases filed in Punjab.

On Friday, a Lahore anti-terrorism court took up the pleas seeking interim bail for PTI leaders booked in these cases, including Yasmin, Andleeb, Mehmoodur Rasheed, Jamshed Cheema, Umair Khan Niazi, Musarrat Jamshed Cheema, Mian Aslam Iqbal and Nadeem Abbas.

During the hearing, the suspects' counsel Burhan Moazzam Malik told Judge Abhar Gul Khan that police had declared the PTI leaders and workers to be innocent in four cases.

The lawyer termed the booking of political leaders under terrorism charges a move "contrary to the Constitution and democracy". "Terrorism laws have been framed for terrorists, not political leaders," he contended.

Lahore police also told the court that terrorism charges had been removed from four cases registered at Gulberg, Bhati Gate, Shafiqabad and Shahdara police stations, adding that the suspects were found to be innocent.

The investigating officer told the court that none of the PTI members booked in the four cases had any role in the charges levelled against them. Moreover, the officer said none of the suspects were required to be arrested in these cases.

Subsequently, the PTI leaders withdrew their bail petitions.

Separately, a Lahore sessions court heard a plea seeking interim bail for Shafqat and others booked on similar charges.

The court was informed that police had not found the PTI leader and party workers to be guilty during the investigation. Subsequently, the interim bail petition was withdrawn.

A day earlier, Shafqat had met with the Lahore capital city police officer to discuss the "fake cases against PTI workers and instances of illegal police action" during the party's 'Azadi March'.

The march

The PTI had marched to Islamabad on May 25 for what it called "haqeeqi azadi" — true freedom — and new general elections, following party chief Imran Khan's ouster as the prime minister through a no-confidence vote in April.

The march was preceded by the authorities invoking of Section 144, a measure used to curb gatherings. Shipping containers were put in place on major thoroughfares to block their path.

Undeterred by the moves, the marchers, who tried to force through the containers to make their way to Islamabad, were met with tear gas as police tried to disperse them. Police had also charged at them with batons.

Television footage of the march showed smoke rising from the ground and fires in the green belts adjacent to Islamabad's main roads. The government claimed that the PTI supporters had set the fires whereas the claim from the PTI camp was that the fires were a result of police shelling. Neither claim could be independently verified.

Early morning on May 26, Imran had abruptly called off the march, giving the government a six-day ultimatum to announce new elections. He had warned that he would "return to the capital" otherwise.

Soon after the march was called off, several PTI leaders, including Imran, were booked in multiple cases across the country on charges of vandalism and violence during the May 25 march.

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