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Shezan Juice ban becomes controversial as its owners were Ahmadis, showing ethnic racialization. File Photo

LAHORE: The Lahore Bar Association denies it has – as yet -- banished a soft drink brand from its domain amid a raging debate that has spawned many issues in need for some urgent scrutiny: the tendency to witch-hunt minorities, the ethics that educated professionals must follow and a general increase in the levels of intolerance in the society.

LBA President Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali told Dawn on Wednesday he had not issued any directions to the canteens attached with the lower courts in Lahore to stop selling Shezan juice. The last weekend, some newspapers had reported that Shezan had been banned in the lower court complexes of Lahore that fell under the LBA’s area of activity. The reports, which quoted Chaudhry Zulfiqar as confirming the restriction, said the decision had been justified on the basis of an understanding that the company which produced Shezan had Ahmadis as its owners. This led to controversy.

A series of newspaper columnists and bloggers decried the ‘ban’. Online petitions were initiated in reaction to this fresh evidence of ‘intolerance’. Also recent instances of persecution of the minorities were recalled to back the demands of review and remedy.

The lawyers were criticised for actively encouraging discrimination on the basis of faith, not least of all by some of their colleagues. Chauhdry Zulfiqar now refutes he had ever asked the canteens in the subordinate courts of the city to stop selling Shezan juice. He talks of numerous small groups that exist within his association and explains it was one such group that had moved a resolution for a ban on the Shezan drink during the last LBA meeting. And that is where the matter stands, insists Chaudhry Zulfiqar, since, he says the resolution has to be approved by the LBA’s general council to become effective. The group behind the motion goes by the title of Khatm-i-Nabuwwat Lawyers’ Forum (KNLF). “Simply moving a resolution does not, in any way, mean its automatic adoption,” the LBA president says: “The general council would decide the matter whenever it is convened next. Till then, there is no ban.” The LBA could well have a lively general council session in store. The issue has already received widespread publicity, the additional impetus for the movers to go the whole hog on this one. The KNLF is not an altogether unknown group. It has been throwing its weight around during recent bar elections. Indeed in 2010, major political parties such as the PPP and the PML-N were blamed for their nomination of a lawyer with said links with the KNLF to the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) for the appointment of judges to the Lahore High Court.

A rival lawyers’ group called it a “political” move, which would indicate the KNLF is important enough for practitioners of bar politics to be on good terms with. This could come into consideration when the general council of the LBA meets and debate the resolution calling for a ban.

There are a couple of opposite arguments though, for the consideration of the lawyers before they reach a decision in the LBA general council. The first one questions the very use of religion and religious sentiments in this case. The second argument does not take on the premise or the motive but asks for a verification of the facts this premise is based upon.

A spokesman for the Shezan International Dawn contacted on Wednesday said Shezan was a public limited company with some 60,000 shares floating in the market. “The National Bank of Pakistan and the National Investment Trust are among the Shezan shareholders,” Muhammad Waseem said. As per the usual practice for such businesses, the Shezan spokesman says, his company has a chief executive officer and a chief financial officer to oversee its work. The two men who are holding these positions with Shezan are Muslim – “they do not belong to any religious minority as is being alleged”.