May 9 riots: How is carrying out rallies akin to terrorism, asks Justice Mandokhail

Published March 20, 2024
This photo combo shows Justice Musarrat Hilali, Justice Jamal Khan Madokhail and Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi. — SC website
This photo combo shows Justice Musarrat Hilali, Justice Jamal Khan Madokhail and Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi. — SC website

As the Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail to five suspects detained in a case pertaining to the May 9 riots, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail wondered how carrying out rallies was equivalent to terrorism.

Countrywide protests had erupted on May 9 last year after the paramilitary Rangers whisked away former prime minister Imran Khan from the Islamabad High Court in the £190m corruption case.

While the protests were under way, social media was flooded with footage of rioting and vandalism at various spots, including the Lahore Corps Commander’s residence and General Headquarters, the army’s head office in Rawalpindi.

In August last year, the Rawalpindi police added section 21(1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) to three first information reports (FIRs) registered in the wake of attacks on military installations.

The next month, they arrested 36 PTI activists and detained them in the Adiala jail under Section 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) despite the Lahore High Court (LHC) granting them bail.

The city police have so far detained as many as 230 suspects in the GHQ attack case, including Imran and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

They have nominated around 150 unknown suspects in the Hamza Camp attack and another 100 in the Museum attack case.

Today, a three-member bench — led by Justice Mandokhail and including Justices Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Musarrat Hilali — took up a bail petition of suspects involved in a case filed by the New Town police for the Hamza Camp attack.

Sardar Abdul Razzaq appeared as the counsel for the petitioners while the investigation officer (IO) and the Punjab government’s lawyer were also present.

During the hearing, Justice Mandokhail asked, “How is carrying out rallies [equivalent to] terrorism?”

The bench censured the police and the prosecution for their poor investigation of the case.

The hearing

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Mandokhail asked, “Is carrying out rallies or being a worker of a political party a crime?”

Observing that banning student unions and political parties had resulted in “this destruction”, he asked: “Should we accept a former prime minister as a traitor based on the statement of a head constable?

“Have some fear of God. Where are we heading?”.

Here, Justice Rizvi asked what evidence was present against the suspects and whether they had been identified from the CCTV footage.

The IO replied, “The protestors had broken the [CCTV] cameras of the venues, including the Hamza Camp.” Justice Mandokhail then noted, “This means there is no evidence against the suspects; only the police statements.”

The judge went on to ask the reason for including terror charges in the cases, to which the Punjab government lawyer replied that the suspects had “attacked” a camp of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Here, Justice Mandokhail remarked, “Then you do not even know what terrorism is. Terrorism took place in the Army Public School Peshawar incident and the Quetta court.”

“How is carrying out rallies [equivalent to] terrorism?” he asked.

The Punjab counsel informed the court that a head constable of the Lahore Special Branch was also a “witness” in the case, at which Justice Mandokhail remarked, “The incident took place in Rawalpindi and the witness is from Lahore?”

“Is it a huge crime to burn a tyre [in protest] against the government?” the judge wondered. He observed that the government and the state had the “importance of one’s parents”, adding, “If parents slap their children, they later convince them, not kill them.”

“Detaining everyone is not the solution to the problem,” he asserted.

Justice Rizvi then noted that there was no other evidence than the police testimony. The IO informed the court that first the case was registered and then the suspects were arrested, at which Justice Mandokhail asked how the names of the suspects were known before their arrest.

“The police themselves damage the entire case,” the judge remarked.

Here, petitioner’s lawyer Razzaq said his clients were returning to their homes after closing their shops and “got stuck while on their way”.

Justice Hilali noted that the FIR did not mention any attack on an ISI office, adding that “sensitive installations are many”.

Justice Rizvi then said, “CCTV recordings are safe. People also make videos from their mobile phones.” The Punjab counsel then claimed, “Petrol bombs have been recovered from the suspects. There is also the allegation of firing.”

At this, Justice Rizvi asked, “Who brought the petrol bombs and from where? One cannot bring them from their homes. What does the investigation say?” The lawyer responded that the probe “did not reveal this aspect”.

Justice Rizvi then noted, “The suspects are also alleged of firing [but] neither were any arms recovered nor were the police injured.”

Justice Mandokhail then remarked, “The investigation officer is concocting stories on his own.”

Subsequently, the SC approved the petitioners’ bail pleas against surety bonds worth Rs50,000.

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