LAHORE: An anti-terrorism court issued non-bailable arrest warrants for eight PTI leaders in connection with the May 9 violent protests after they failed to attend the legal proceedings initiated against them.

The riots erupted nationwide following the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan, leading to significant unrest, including the burning of police vehicles near Lahore’s Rahat Bakery Chowk, after which the Sarwar Road police registered a case against several PTI leaders.

The court’s decision targets eight PTI leaders, including former federal ministers Murad Saeed, Azam Swati and Farrukh Habib, while others are Zubair Khan Niazi, Hafiz Farhat, Wasiq Qayum Abbasi, Hamid Raza and Imtiaz Ahmad Sheikh.

The investigating officer told the court that despite hectic efforts, the suspects could not be arrested as they had reportedly gone into hiding to avoid arrest.

LHC seeks justification for detention of Khadija Shah

The officer asked the court to issue non-bailable arrest warrants for suspects to fulfil a requirement before starting the process to declare them proclaimed offenders. Judge Abher Gul Khan, responding to this request, approved the application and issued the warrants accordingly.

PTI leaders, including Hammad Azhar, Murad Saeed, Azam Swati, Ali Amin Gandapur, Farrukh Habib, Mian Aslam Iqbal, Andleeb Abbas, Karamat Khokhar and Zubair Niazi have already been declared proclaimed offenders in multiple cases stemming from the events of May 9.

Khadija’s detention

Meanwhile, the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday called for a detailed explanation regarding the continued preventive detention of PTI activist and fashion designer Khadija Shah by the caretaker Punjab government.

The move came during a hearing presided over by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, who responded to a petition filed by Jahanzeb Amin, Ms Shah’s husband.

The petition challenges the legitimacy of the 30-day detention order issued by the deputy commissioner for Ms Shah. An additional advocate general informed the court that Ms Shah’s detention had been reviewed and upheld by Punjab’s caretaker cabinet.

Justice Najafi inquired if Ms Shah had been provided with a copy of the cabinet’s decision, to which the law officer indicated a delay as all cabinet members were required to sign the decision.

The hearing was subsequently adjourned until Wednesday (today), with instructions for the law officer to present the cabinet’s reasons for upholding Ms Shah’s detention.

The petitioner, Mr Amin, argued that the detention order under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) was unlawfully issued to obstruct Ms Shah’s release despite her being granted bail in all four cases related to the May 9 riots.

He alleged that the detention was unlawful and based on malicious intent, highlighting a pattern where Ms Shah was implicated in new cases whenever a court granted her bail. He asked the court to declare the detention order illegal and direct the government to set the activist free.

Ms Shah received post-arrest bail on Nov 15 for the fourth case related to the May 9 riots. The Sarwar Road police had re-arrested her in the case of torching police vehicles outside Rahat Bakery Chowk following her bail in two other cases related to incidents at Jinnah House and Askari Tower.

Additionally, Ms Shah faced arrest in a cybercrime case by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for allegedly inciting people against the army during the riots, although a sessions court later granted her bail.

Meanwhile, the LHC reserved its verdict on a contempt petition of PTI social media activist Sanam Javed against the police authorities for not releasing her despite bail in all May 9 cases registered against her.

Justice Najafi reserved the verdict after the petitioner’s counsel concluded his arguments. The counsel stated that the courts granted bail to the petitioner in four out of five cases. He said Ms Javed had already been discharged in one case and keeping her behind bars amounted to contempt of court.

The judge observed that the petitioner should file a separate petition since the government issued her detention order under the MPO.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2023

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