LAHORE, Nov 5: Police arrested several hundred lawyers on Monday from the premises of the Lahore High Court after it battered down the door of the famous Kiyani Hall of the Lahore High Court Bar Association and ransacked the Karachi Shuhada Hall.
A ‘battle’ broke out between the lawyers, protesting against the imposition of “martial law in the garb of emergency”, and the police, which denied them access to The Mall to hold a protest march. It left scores of lawyers and policemen injured. Justice Fakharun Nisa Khokar (retired), present among the protesters, was admitted to the Mayo Hospital after she was injured during the police operation.
Police beat up and rained tear gas shells on the protesters, including a few politicians and over two dozen students from the Lahore University of Management and Sciences (LUMS), after they tried to break through the cordon in front of the main LHC gate. The use of force by police was described by lawyers and witnesses as brute and unprecedented.
Over a thousand lawyers had gathered in and around the Karachi Shuhada Hall after showering rose petals in front of the locked courtrooms of the judges, who refused oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO).
They also entered into arguments and succeeded in dissuading a few lawyers —pleading cases in the courtrooms — from appearing before the judges, who took oath under the PCO.
Later, they delivered fiery speeches against General Musharraf and showed the door to Punjab PPP President Shah Mahmood Qureshi and General Secretary Ghulam Abbas who had come there to show solidarity with lawyers. The hall brimming with lawyers suddenly switched to anti-PPP slogans as soon as the LHCBA secretary Sarfraz Cheema invited both the leaders to the stage.
Political parties’ presence in and around the LHC was almost negligible although they had promised to mobilize their workers to lend support to lawyers. Jamaat-i-Islami whose workers were already in Lahore for their party meeting were also nowhere to be seen despite Qazi Hussain Ahmad’s statement on Sunday that they would be very much there on The Mall on Monday.
Several lawyers soaked their neckties with water to protect their eyes from teargas on their way to the main gate of the high court after winding up speeches and slogans inside the hall. A scuffle broke out as soon as the police foiled their attempt to break the cordon.
The lawyers then started pelting police with broken bricks and shouted slogans, which reflected their anger and frustration over the situation. Out came the first shell, spreading teargas and panic among the protesters, who started running for cover.
Amid shouts and stinging gas, a group of lawyers smashed the glasses of the door of one of the rooms of the high court building. More shells, which flew across the sky spewing tear gas, landed in and around the protesters frantically retreating towards the Kyani Hall of the LHCBA.
“Let’s go to the courtroom of the chief justice and burn it down,” shouted one of the lawyers. But soon they had to look for cover as more cops and plainclothesmen, present in and outside the courtrooms in large numbers, swooped on them from all directions.
Hundreds of cops, who emerged from all the three gates of the high court, started scoring for the lawyers and in the process smashed the front door of the Kiyani Hall. “What do you think you are doing,” one of the female lawyers, being taken outside the high court, asked a cop. “They have abused and manhandled us,” alleged several female lawyers who were driven out of their room.
Later, when the SSP Operations Aftab Cheema arrived at the scene, the cops started bundling the lawyers into vans parked outside the main gate of the high court. “I am being arrested because I want rule of law, democracy and independence of judiciary in the country,” said Pir Kalim Khurshid before he was pushed into a police van.
Several lawyers were roughed up when they were arrested by the plainclothesmen and thrown into official vans. A group of students, led by Sadaf Aziz, Assistant Professor at the LUMS, was stopped from being arrested by the SSP when they were being taken in a queue towards the police van.
“They can beat us up, put us behind bars but could not take away our freedom,” said one of the students. Talking to Dawn, Sadaf said she had joined hands with lawyers to protest against the martial law imposed by the regime. “I appeal to everyone to join forces with the democratic forces for the sake of our fundamental rights and freedom,” she added.
“We want to make it very clear that we have abstained from canning the lawyers who really tested our patience by injuring our personnal,” said Aftab Cheema while talking to Dawn. He said over four dozen lawyers had sustained injures.
Answering a question, Cheema said since the lawyers had violated Section 144, criminal charges would be brought up against them.