The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the federal government’s request to issue an interim order against PTI chief Imran Khan to bar him from what authorities described as creating a perceived law and order situation in the name of “jihad” against the state through a planned long march.
However, the court gave the government a “free hand” to control the law and order situation and warned that it would intervene if any party violated court orders.
The request’s dismissal came during the hearing of a contempt petition filed by the federal government against Imran for allegedly flouting the top court’s May 25 order regarding the party’s “Azadi March”.
In the same plea, the government sought a restraining order against the former PM from creating a perceived law and order situation through an intended march, specifically at a time when flood-affected people require urgent relief.
A five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial heard the petition. Apart from the CJP, the bench consisted of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi.
During the hearing, Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf argued that citizens’ rights had been affected by the PTI’s previous sit-in. The party had submitted an affidavit stating that citizens would not be inconvenienced, he informed the court.
“The court order allocated a specific place but the sit-in was brought to D-Chowk, which resulted in material losses. The court should punish those who violated its orders,” he urged.
Imran had issued a call for workers to gather at D-Chowk despite assuring the court he would not do so during proceedings, the AGP recalled. The Srinagar Highway was opened for traffic on the court’s order. The PTI itself asked for Parade Ground but the workers gathered at D-Chowk instead, he added.
“[Party] workers came towards the Red Zone where there were clashes with law enforcement agencies. Protesters damaged public and private properties,” Ausaf continued, adding that during the proceedings that culminated in the SC’s May 25 order, the PTI’s lawyers were in contact with the party leadership.
Ausaf also read out the SC’s May 25 order in the court. “The order prevented us from arresting [PTI’s] workers. It directed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Inspector General Islamabad and the interior ministry to submit reports.
“When the reports were submitted, it was found that PTI had violated the assurances [it gave the court],” the AGP said. He informed the court that he had not been provided copies of the reports, at which the bench assured that he would be given the reports.
Ausaf informed the court that policemen from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Jammu and Kashmir had also entered the capital during the march.
The bench then provided the AGP reports from the police and administration regarding that day’s events and asked him to analyse them.
Ausaf asked the court to issue an interim order. When the chief justice asked what the attorney general wanted, the latter replied, “Imran is calling the attack on Islamabad a jihad. He is inciting people through his speeches.
“It is the state’s responsibility to protect citizens’ fundamental rights.”
“According to you, the court order had already been violated. You were the executive authority and following the court order. In the present situation, you have the liberty to take preventative measures,” Chief Justice Bandial observed.
The CJP noted that according to the reports, around 300 people came towards Red Zone in the capital on May 25. But, he observed, it seemed that they were local residents. “Had they been protesters, they would have been more in number.”
He noted that 13 people had been injured in the “Azadi March” and public property had been damaged. “Imran Khan went back the next morning.
“We will analyse reports in this matter. You should prepare in accordance with the law,” he instructed the attorney general while referring to the PTI’s upcoming march, the date for which has yet to be announced.
“You are telling us [the PTI] has planned a march and sit-in again. You can deal with the situation in accordance with the law,” he iterated. “As of now, there are only speeches. You should take steps wherever there are threats in cities.
“You should request [the court] to stop the crowd when people gather. There is no crowd right now,” the chief justice observed.
The court rejected the government’s request to issue an interim order for stopping the PTI’s intended long march and directed the AGP to come prepared at the next hearing.
Adjourning the hearing till October 26, the CJP gave the government a “free hand” to control the law and order situation. He also said the government may approach the court if there was any “issue” before next week.
The CJP told the AGP that he would have to present strong arguments, adding, “We are not political actors and neither can we take political measures.”
He added that the court’s job was to maintain balance and conditions applied even to the right to protest.
The CJP warned that there would be “serious consequences” if any political leader violated court orders, adding that if the court’s intervention was needed, judges would reach courts even on off days. “If there is any violation by any party, we will intervene.”
“It is the administration’s responsibility to take steps according to the law,” he said, adding that the administration should be prepared to deal with the situation in case of a march.
The court also directed that the AGP be provided the copies of agencies’ reports on Imran’s previous long march that were submitted following a court order.
The federal government, through the interior ministry, had approached the Supreme Court last week for initiating contempt of court proceedings against Imran for violating its May 25 order, wherein the PTI was restricted from holding its ‘Azadi March’ near Peshawar Mor between the H-9 and G-9 areas of Islamabad. However, Imran and his supporters made their way towards D-Chowk in alleged contravention of court orders.
According to the petition, the apex court had in its May order directed the PTI to hold a gathering on a ground located between sectors H-9 and G-9 in view of the categorical assurances on behalf of the party’s top leadership and their counsel that their rally would not cause any inconvenience or blockage of the Srinagar Highway or trouble the public and that the rally would be conducted in a peaceful and lawful manner.
Despite these assurances, the PTI top leadership, acting in blatant disregard for the directions, exhorted its supporters to reach D-Chowk, falsely professing that the court had allowed the march without any conditions, it added.
The contempt petition pleaded for the implementation of the apex court order for the protection of the fundamental rights of the public, particularly residents of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
It also requested that the Supreme Court should also issue comprehensive guidelines for all future protests to be held in the federal capital that should include prior intimation of the date, selection of the venue, assurance of not causing any hindrance to public life and a commitment to ensure that the protesters would not cause any damage to public or private property.
The plea also claimed the tone and tenor adopted by the PTI chairman in his speeches against the incumbent rulers and state institutions was “highly inflammatory”, aimed at encouraging distrust and contempt and instigating revolt.
This had caused significant alarm not only among the public, but also the international community and investors regarding the impact of this purported ‘jihad’, the petition claimed, adding the past conduct of the party head, especially the events of May 25 and his violation of court orders, his alleged encouragement of destruction of public and private property and disruption of law and order, merited strong directions from the apex court about his upcoming protests.