–Top court says country’s decisions will be taken on streets rather than in courts if situation in federal capital is not taken under control
–Says Punjab government failed to take preventive measures even though it had prior information about protest by religious parties
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday slammed the Punjab government for not making efforts to prevent the protest sit-in at Faizabad from taking place despite having prior information, saying the country’s decisions will be taken on the streets rather than in courts if the situation in the federal capital is not taken under control.
Daily life in the capital has been disrupted for over 18 days by protesters belonging to religious parties — including the Tehreek-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST) — who are calling for the sacking of Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid and stern action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017. The amendment had earlier been deemed a ‘clerical error’ and has already been rectified.
The protesters have occupied the Faizabad Bridge which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road, both of which are the busiest roads in the twin cities. The Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) deadline for the government to remove the protesters expired on Thursday.
As the two-member bench — headed by Justice Musheer Alam — started hearing the case on Thursday, Justice Qazi Faez Isa said that the authorities need to tell the court who is funding the sit-in and if there is any indication of foreign involvement in the matter.
The bench received reports from the federal and Punjab government on the sit-in and criticised them for failing to resolve the matter.
In his report, the attorney general told the court that the government is being cautious because there is a risk of confrontation if action is taken against the protesters, as some of them are also armed.
Replying to the attorney general’s remarks, Justice Alam said, “Tomorrow, if an enemy of the state chooses to occupy the streets of the capital, will the government try to negotiate with them?”
Trying to clarify the government’s position, the attorney general said that the government had sent the SC’s order regarding dispersing the participants to the leaders of the protest.
Angered by this reply, Justice Alam said, “What do you mean, will the protesters now decide if the sit-in will end or not?”
“No one is paying attention to the main point: all the reports reflect that the Punjab government had prior information regarding a possible sit-in and no measures were taken to stop it,” Justice Alam said.
Disconcerted by the government’s inaction, Justice Isa said that if the situation is not taken under control, the country’s decisions will be taken on the streets rather than in courts.
Speaking about the protesters, Justice Qazi said that the kind of language being used by the leaders of the sit-in is not reflective of Islam.
“Why is the media giving the sit-in so much coverage; where is the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA)?” asked the judge.
“Who is paying for the sit-in, who is providing the protesters with food, and electricity?”
Justice Qazi ordered the IB and ISI to satisfy the court by filing the missing details in the confidential report, and adjourned the hearing of the case for a week.
During the previous hearing of the case, Justice Isa had said that Article 15 of the Constitution allows freedom of movement to the public. He had asked government authorities to explain what steps have been taken to protect public’s basic rights.
The court had also issued notices to the inspectors-general of Islamabad and Punjab, the attorney general and advocate generals of Islamabad and Punjab, seeking their replies on the matter by Nov 23.
The government is under mounting pressure to end the Faizabad protest. The IHC on Monday initiated contempt proceedings against top officials of the Islamabad administration by issuing them show-cause notices.
In order to tighten the noose on the protesters, the administration of the capital decided to shut off street lights around the area of Faizabad Interchange; however, street lights in sector I-8 and nearby residential areas will not be turned off. The meeting, chaired by Commissioner Zulfiqar Haider, also agreed to resume the services of the metro bus service, which has been suspended for 14 days, besides providing Islamabad Expressway as an alternate route.
The authorities reportedly agreed on blocking the roads leading to Faizabad to discourage more people from joining the sit-in, along with putting additional barriers on the already blocked Murree Road–the main artery connecting Rawalpindi with the interchange.
In order to remove any security loopholes, contingents of law enforcement personnel have been deployed near Faizabad and all concerned departments have been instructed to “stay alert” during the night.
Police nab 42 protesters
Meanwhile, police arrested 42 protesters who attacked and injured policemen as well as members of the Frontier Constabulary (FC).
At least 12 policemen, including a superintendent, and FC personnel were injured last night by means of stone pelting. The officials were also beaten by sticks and iron rods.
Protesters also beat up two photojournalists and tried to snatch their cameras as they were trying to capture images of the attack on police.
The police registered a case against the leaders and participants of the sit-in. A total of 19 cases have been registered against the protesters up till now.
The government on Monday had scrambled to secure the support of religious leaders and clerics from across the political spectrum in a bid to negotiate a peaceful end to the sit-in.
A meeting of the clerics and scholars, which was also attended by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Mohammad Yousuf, had resolved to end the protest in a peaceful manner.
However, a meeting between representatives of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and government ministers held at Punjab House was unable to make any breakthrough, as the protesters refused to budge from their demand for the law minister’s resignation.