Sindh, Punjab bar councils announce lawyers’ strikes on May 9 after Lahore police clashes

Published May 8, 2024
Lawyers and policemen stand on the opposite sides of a fence as the latter prevents the former from gaining entry into the LHC. — DawnNewsTV
Lawyers and policemen stand on the opposite sides of a fence as the latter prevents the former from gaining entry into the LHC. — DawnNewsTV
Lawyers and police clash as the former protest outside LHC. — DawnNewsTV
Lawyers and police clash as the former protest outside LHC. — DawnNewsTV

The Punjab Bar Council (PBC) and Sindh Bar Council (SBC) on Wednesday announced a strike by all lawyers and bar associations in the provinces for May 9 after clashes with the Lahore police.

Lahore’s GPO Chowk became a battleground earlier today between riot police and lawyers after the latter staged a protest rally and attempted to enter the Lahore High Court (LHC).

The lawyers’ attempts to gain entry into the high court were repelled by police, who baton-charged, fired tear gas at and used water cannons to disperse them.

Dawn.com correspondent Rana Bilal, present at the scene, reported that violence erupted as lawyers, including members from the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA), demanded the dismissal of a terror case filed against fellow lawyers, and protested against the shifting of a court to a different location.

The correspondent said that dozens of lawyers were arrested and wounded in police action, while some members of the press, law enforcement agencies and bystanders were also affected.

Negotiations between the police and lawyers failed to resolve the impasse, the correspondent on the ground added.

In a press release issued after a press conference held by the PBC, LHCBA and Lahore Bar Association (LBA), PBC Vice Chairman Kamran Bashir Mughal and Pir Imran Akram Bodla, chairman of the PBC executive committee announced a strike by all lawyers and bar associations in the province tomorrow (Thursday) against the LHC chief justice and police’s “thuggery”.

They said rallies would be taken out against the treatment meted out to lawyers today and a protest would be registered. They said that the strike would be strictly ensured.

They called for the Punjab police chief and chief minister to “come to their senses” and immediately release the detained lawyer. They also demanded that the Punjab police chief, Lahore’s top cop and deputy inspector general of police be immediately changed.

The press release reiterated that lawyers would not appear in court on Thursday and would mark their protest through rallies and demonstrations.

Separately, the SBC said it was in agreement with the PBC and also announced a strike and boycott of court proceedings for Thursday with instructions for advocates to not attend proceedings.

The SBC demanded the federal and Punjab governments to take immediate notice of the matter, address the involvement of the Lahore police in the “shameful and inhuman” treatment of lawyers and take action against the responsible police officials.

The council condemned the “excessive and unwarranted use of police force” against lawyers and termed it a “shameful act” that was a grave violation of the force’s duty and discipline.

The Karachi Bar Association also announced a boycott and sent a letter to the sessions judges of the city’s districts to suspend judicial work and issue the same directions to their subordinate courts.

Speaking to Dawn News earlier, LHCBA President Asad Butt had said that the lawyers’ protest would continue until their demands were met.

“The police have inflicted cruelty by using force against a peaceful march,” Butt said, noting that dozens of lawyers have been injured by tear gas shelling.

He demanded that the notification of the division of courts be withdrawn immediately and that cases filed against lawyers should be dismissed.

According to a previous PBC press release, dated May 7, the LHCBA’s joint action committee — comprising a dozen members — had met on Tuesday where it had decided to “welcome” the protest rally announced by the LBA.

The PBC had demanded that the notification of “dividing the lawyers under the guise of the unjust division of Model Town courts” be withdrawn and that terror cases against lawyers be squashed. It had further announced a complete strike in all bar associations across Punjab.

SCBA, PBC condemn police action

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) strongly condemned the “police high-handedness against the peacefully protesting lawyers” and urged Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa to take suo motu notice of the incident.

In a statement, SCBA President Shahzad Shaukat, Secretary Syed Ali Imran and the bar’s executive committee “expressed solidarity with the lawyers and their just stance”.

“Numerous lawyers have reportedly sustained serious injuries and many have been unjustly detained,” the statement highlighted.

It demanded immediate medical attention for the wounded and the prompt release of the arrested lawyers.

The SCBA lawyers also strongly condemned and criticised the “inept handling of this very sensitive matter” by LHC Chief Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan, who, they said, “failed to resolve the issue despite repeated appeals from the Bar”.

They highlighted that the lawyers’ arrests were a “clear infringement of the principles of democracy, freedom of expression, and the right to dissent”.

“If the police brutality continues unchecked and the lawyers’ just & fair demands remain unmet, this protest will escalate into a nationwide movement, with SCBA spearheading the call for nationwide action,” the Bar’s statement said.

Separately, PBC Vice Chairman Riazat Ali Sahar “vehemently condemned the reprehensible police brutality inflicted upon” the lawyers.

In a press release, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, Sahar said that lawyers across the country would “stage a complete strike” tomorrow as well as “convene protest meetings, marches and rallies in their respective bar rooms”.

Detailing the reasons for the protest, he said the lawyers were “engaged in a peaceful protest against the notification to transfer cases to the ‘Model Town kutchery’ and the unjustified registration of terrorism cases against their fraternity”.

Criticising “excessive and unwarranted use of police force against lawyers”, the PBC vice chairman demanded “immediate and decisive action from both the federal and Punjab governments, along with senior police officers, to address the involvement of police officials in this shameful and inhuman act”.

He further expressed disappointment towards the LHC chief justice, stating that the failure to resolve the longstanding issue through peaceful negotiation contributed to the situation.

Earlier, footage broadcast on television showed a large number of riot personnel and lawyers clashing, with what appeared to be tear gas blanketing GPO Chowk.

In a post on X at around 12:30pm, the Lahore Traffic Police said that a diversion had been placed at High Court Chowk and Istanbul Chowk towards GPO Chowk.

It further added that the Cantt deputy superintendent of police was present at the scene along with “additional contingents”.

Speaking to Dawn News, Lahore bureau chief Muhammad Bilal said that all gates and roads to the LHC have been shut so that the lawyers could not enter the court.

He noted that since the LHCBA had announced the rally beforehand, there was already a heavy police contingent present at the scene with anti-riot forces and water cannons.

“While the rally was making its way to the court, it was peaceful. The police began taking action once the lawyers tried to make their way into the court,” the bureau chief said, describing the situation as “pretty tense”.

Meanwhile, when asked why the police resorted to shelling at the lawyers, a senior superintendent of police said the protesters had first pelted stones at the police and tried to engage them in a fight.

Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz said she had directed Inspector General Dr Usman Anwar to “refrain from using force against the lawyers”.

“Lawyers must also resolve their matters with LHC amicably. For the safety of the citizens of Lahore, confrontation should be avoided,” she said in a post on X.

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