ISLAMABAD, Feb 9: Police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse a rally of protesting lawyers on Saturday after they decided to boycott courts till the general election.
Police arrested the lawyers when they took to the streets after a convention made the boycott decision.
The convention, called by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), was held at the Islamabad Bar Association’s office inside the Islamabad District Courts. Police stopped the lawyers when they tried to reach the house of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. The police used water-canons, tear gas and batons.
More than 30 protesters and police were injured while 12 lawyers and members of civil society were detained, police said.
Saturday’s decision superseded an earlier one calling for limiting the boycott of superior courts to Thursdays and for an hour on every working day.
The Peshawar and Rawalpindi bar associations had objected to the move.
The lawyers faced the police for more than two hours on the edge of Islamabad’s Judicial Colony of Supreme Court judges where Justice Iftikhar had been confined.
The lawyers had been demanding the restoration of all 60 judges removed under the emergency for refusing or not being invited to take oath under a Provisional Constitution Order promulgated under the emergency.
About 700 lawyers of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Attock, Jhelum, Lahore, Chakwal, Dina and Mandi Bahuddin bar associations and representatives of civil society groups gathered outside the house of detained Supreme Court Bar Association president Aitzaz Ahsan. They gathered on the call of Pakistan and Punjab Bar Councils.
Hundreds of police and law-enforcement personnel lined up in several rows behind iron barricades and barbed wire outside the Balochistan House to stop the lawyers’ procession from marching to the nearby residence of Justice Iftikhar.
Fire engines and an armoured personnel carrier were also seen.
The protesters carried placards and chanted slogans for the independence of judiciary and restoration of pre-PCO judges. They also chanted slogans against the government, army and President Pervez Musharraf.
Some lawyers tried to remove the barbed wire and barricades to clear their way only to be greeted with water canons in the chilly weather.
They hurled stones on police, who retaliated with tear-gas and batons that forced eventually forced the lawyers to step back.
The protesters reassembled in front of the Marriot Hotel where they faced tear gas and threw stones for another half an hour.
Some tear gas shells fell inside the premises of the hotel and few adjacent government buildings. Lawyers threw many of the shells back.
However, police succeeded in clearing the road and dispersing the lawyers. Those arrested with the lawyers included civil society figure Tahira Abdullah, who was dragged by both male and female police officials.
The police beat some lawyers after taking them into custody.
Cases had been registered against hundreds of lawyers for violation of section 144, attacking and injuring 17 police officials, including a DSP, SHO of Secretariat, an ASI, a head constable, 13 constables, and obstruction in police duties at the Secretariat police station.
The 11 detained lawyers were shifted to separate police stations of Golra, Industrial Area and Secretariat. Ms Abdullah was released after personal surety bond.
After announcing the boycott decision, the lawyers’ convention also rejected the report of a Scotland Yard team that said Benazir Bhutto was killed by the suicide bomb blast rather than bullet.
The convention vowed to continue the struggle for the restoration of the pre-emergency judiciary and called ‘some lawyers’ who accepted offers to become judges in different high courts as black sheep.
The protesters included PBC vice-chairman Mirza Aziz Akbar Baiq, senior advocate Hamid Khan, Supreme Court Bar Association vice-president Sakhi Sultan, Sindh High Court Bar Association president Rasheed A. Razvi, Gujrat Bar Association president Chaudhry Badarul Islam, Jhelum Bar Association president Sheikh Muhammad Afzal, Rawalpindi High Court Bar Association president Sardar Asmatullah Khan, Islamabad Bar Association president Haroonur Rasheed and Syed Zafar Ali Shah besides others.
In a telephonic address at the convention from Karachi, former Supreme Court judge Wajehuddin Ahmed called for an oath by all political parties contesting elections to reinstate all the deposed judges as done by the PML-N and described all actions of President Musharraf unconstitutional.
Detained former SCBA president Munir A. Malik congratulated lawyers via telephone for holding a successful convention and urged them to forge complete unity to carry on the movement.
The convention also resolved to hold a similar protest in Lahore on March 15 and demanded an immediate release of detained lawyers and judges and establishment of an independent commission to review alleged unconstitutional steps taken by the president Musharraf.