–Chief Justice Minallah says ‘an elected democratic govt cannot place curbs on freedom of expression’
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday wrapped up the bail petitions of 23 activists belonging to Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and Awami Workers Party (AWP), who were arrested by the Islamabad police last month while protesting against the arrest of PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen
As IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah resumed the hearing of bail petitions filed by the 23 protesters, Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat told the court that the case against the protesters had been dropped.
On the basis of the deputy commissioner’s statement, the IHC wrapped up the bail petitions of the protesters.
“After the statement of the Islamabad administration, all petitions have become ineffective,” said Chief Justice Minallah.
Earlier on Feb 2, the court was told that Section 124-A (related to sedition) had been deleted, but Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997 had been inserted in the First Information Report (FIR) against the protesters.
Following this, the IHC on Tuesday had sought an explanation from a magistrate for invoking sedition charges against those who were taken into custody during the protest.
During Monday’s proceedings, the IHC chief justice said: “We don’t expect that a democratic government will curb freedom of expression.”
“An elected democratic government cannot place curbs on freedom of expression. [We] shouldn’t fear criticism,” he remarked, adding: “The constitutional courts will protect the constitutional rights of the people.
“Everyone’s constitutional rights will be protected. This is Pakistan, not India,” Justice Minallah said.
“If you want to protest, get permission. If you don’t get permission, the court is here,” he said.
Islamabad Advocate General Tariq Mehmood Jahangir said that the country had been fighting terrorism for 20 years and the “secret agenda” of the protesters was worrisome.
“No one should say anything against the state,” he said, adding that a written order against those who speak against the state or make hate speeches should also be issued.
“No institution or state is so weak that anything is done on someone’s saying,” Justice Minallah remarked.
He said that in 2014, President Arif Alvi had himself challenged Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code — a law concerning the maintenance of public order. Justice Minallah said that the current government had itself challenged Section 144 and added: “[I] hope that they will not take away rights”.
“The country is a democracy, let the Parliament decide.”