Shipping containers were placed outside the main entrance of party chairman Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence in Lahore — ostensibly by PTI supporters — on Thursday as the Lahore High Court (LHC) postponed the police operation for the arrest of the former prime minister till March 17.
Islamabad Police, backed up by their Punjab Police compatriots and the Rangers, have met significant resistance from PTI workers since Tuesday in trying to execute non-bailable arrest warrants issued by a sessions court for Imran, who is currently holed up in his Lahore residence.
Imran has skipped hearings four times.
After several violent exchanges, in which petrol bombs and tear gas were traded, the police retreated yesterday, saying that the operation had been paused during the ongoing Pakistan Super League (PSL). Separately, the LHC had also ordered the LEAs to stop the action until 10am today.
On Thursday, the LHC once again postponed the police operation at Zaman Park.
“On the request of the learned counsel for the petitioner, this case is adjourned to 17.03.2023. Injunctive orders passed yesterday shall remain in force till then,” the court said in its written order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com.
The court passed these directives on PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry’s petition seeking to stop “atrocities” on his party chairman and workers at Zaman Park.
During the hearing, LHC’s Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh remarked that the lack of understanding of the law was the cause of the issue.
He highlighted that adherence to the rule of law could resolve the current impasse. The judge went on to emphasise that all solutions to such problems could be found in the Constitution.
Justice Sheikh also lamented that the entire system “had been jammed” by the opposing parties.
“Sometimes you appear in this court, and at other times you turn up in the Islamabad High Court,” he commented.
The judge also advised that both parties [police and PTI] needed to follow the law and reminded them that the entire nation had been affected by the ongoing situation.
Later in a tweet, Chaudhry said the LHC had extended the orders to stop the operation at Zaman Park until tomorrow.
“The chief secretary and inspector general of police have been instructed to sit with the leadership of the PTI and resolve these matters through mutual consultation,” he said.
In the evening, following the conclusion of both Imran-related court hearings, the situation at Zaman Park was reported as “calm” by a Dawn.com correspondent present at the scene. However, a large number of PTI supporters were still present there with others making their way.
Meanwhile, DIG Operations Afzaal Ahmed Kauser and CCPO Lahore Bilal Saddique Kamyana visited the Zaman Park area to assess the situation around.
‘Police team at Zaman Park was unarmed’
Later in the day, Punjab Inspector General (IG) Usman Anwar talked about the police operation at Zaman Park while addressing a press conference in Lahore alongside Punjab Interim Information Minister Amir Mir.
He said that police were sent to Zaman Park to execute the arrest warrants, where officials were met with petrol bombs, and sticks and stones while their vehicles were also damaged.
“Green belts were burnt, electricity poles were burnt and then police vehicles were attacked. Rangers were with us. Their vehicles were attacked and petrol bombs were thrown on Rangers personnel.”
He said that police officials had been explicitly told not to carry any arms, specifically any weapon which had bullets. “So the entire force [….] was without weapons. This is interesting because in law and order situations in the past, the SP or DSP sent is always armed,” he said, adding that this was done in an effort to ensure minimum or no loss of life and property.
He said that police used tear gas and water cannons in accordance with the law after the onslaught from PTI workers. He said that arrests where also made at points where officials were met with resistance.
“Despite all of this, the police at no point took any step which caused loss of life,” he said, adding that more than 60 policemen were injured , a higher number compared to the PTI workers injured.
“It is unfortunate that the area has become or is being turned into a no-go.” He said that when a particular area is made into a no-go, it becomes difficult to “clear” it and there was a “cost” to be paid.
Mir, meanwhile, said that information had been received that a few “militants” from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were also present at Zaman Park. An official press release quoted Mir as saying that one of these people had links with Tehreek-i-Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi and had now become a part of a political party.
He said that the person in question was Maulana Sufi Muhammad’s right hand man and had also spent eight years in prison.
Yasmin Rashid says police tried to arrest her without warrant
Separately, PTI leader Yasmin Rashid alleged that police tried to arrest her without a warrant in Lahore but the prompt response of party workers helped her get away.
Footage the alleged incident showed a white Prado jeep standing stationary on a road with what appears to be a police mobile parked ahead at a distance. Footage also showed Punjab police personnel walking towards the white car accompanied by men in plainclothes.
Speaking to the media, Yasmin alleged that a police vehicle had blocked her path, and a female officer had disembarked and asked her to come and sit with them.
“I said why should I come? Do you have any warrant?” Yasmin said. “They didn’t have any warrant.”
The PTI leader added that she locked the car doors and told the police that she would not go with them.
“Meanwhile, people started gathering. I informed you guys and the party people. Our photographer has all the footage,” she said.
PTI workers fortify entrance of Imran’s residence
At around 12pm on Thursday (today), Dawn.com’s correspondent at Zaman Park said a number of PTI workers had gathered outside at Canal Road with sticks and slings. They blocked Imran’s residence with containers and chanted slogans in favour of their party chief.
The ex-premier’s supporters also placed rocks along multiple sections of the road leading to Zaman Park.
On the other hand, police had started gathering at Mall Road.
Video footage of the scene showed multiple trucks with shipping containers placed on them parked at the intersection of the Mall and Canal roads. A dozen Punjab policemen could also be seen in the clip.
In a series of tweets today, the PTI quoted party leader Musarrat Jamshed Cheema as saying that roads leading to Zaman Park were being blocked and containers were being placed on major highways in Punjab.
“We want to warn them that we will continue to defend the leader of the nation,” she stated, warning that “we will not let the future of Pakistan be pledged to these few families”.
Cheema also claimed that the LHC had barred the police from conducting an operation. “But if this administration defies court orders, they will face the legions of the people,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Islamabad police said that nine officers of their force were injured during the clashes at Zaman Park of which one is still under treatment at a hospital.
“Unarmed police officers were tortured and roads were blocked,” it tweeted, stressing that the police were performing their duties to fulfil the court’s orders.
“Islamabad Capital Police has been and will continue to discharge its responsibility in a professional manner,” it further vowed and requested cooperation with the police for the implementation of the law.
Imran thanks SCBAP
Separately, Imran has thanked the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBAP) for its condemnation of the “excessive use of force by authorities at Zaman Park”.
“My party was founded on the principle of the rule of law and we continue to stand by this commitment,” he said in a tweet.
In a statement issued yesterday, the association said that it stood for rule of law, the Constitution and the dignity of the judgements issued by the courts.
“Any form of violence is not acceptable in a democratic country governed by rule of law and the Constitution. The use of excessive force against the former prime minister of Pakistan is highly condemned. Furthermore, the method of service of warrants is also highly arbitrary, vindictive and not in accordance with [the] law. Therefore, such violence must be stopped forthwith,” the statement said.
“Every person must be treated in accordance with [the] law and due process must be adopted. Law enforcement agencies must not use excessive force and citizens must not initiate confrontation or damage public and private property. It is incumbent upon all citizens to obey orders passed by all courts,” it added.
Additional input by Umar Farooq
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