The Lahore High Court has allowed lawyers to hold a rally on The Mall today in protest against the Nato attack on Pakistani check posts, in an astonishing reversal of the court’s own push for a permanent ban on protests on the city’s main thoroughfare.
Justice Khalid Mehmood Khan issued an order suspending the operation of Section 144 imposed by the district coordination officer (DCO) banning public gatherings of more than five people, for any purpose other than mourning processions and majalis, during Muharram.
He was hearing an application filed by Lahore Bar Association (LBA) Secretary Syed Farhad Ali Shah to a pending petition challenging the ban on rallies on The Mall.
Just a day earlier, LHC Chief Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed sought replies from the chief secretary, inspector general (IG) of Punjab Police and the DCO on a petition from the Mall Road Traders Association seeking contempt proceedings against them for not implementing the ban, as nurses demanding better pay had rallied on The Mall.
On November 2, the chief justice’s predecessor, Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry, had issued directions to the chief secretary, IG and home secretary to permanently ban rallies.
And during the course of various hearings of the traders association’s petition earlier this year, the court had repeatedly instructed government officials to enforce the ban.
However, none of this was mentioned in the LBA application heard yesterday.
LBA President Shahzad Hassan Sheikh, appearing as the LBA counsel, submitted that the association had planned a peaceful rally from Aiwan-i-Adl to Charring Cross on December 1 to show solidarity with the armed forces and to condemn the Nato attack.
However, he said, the government had directed the DCO to ban public gatherings under Section 144 “to curtail ongoing protests against the US and Nato”. He said the government was depriving lawyers of their constitutional right to protest on matters of national importance.
He submitted that the lawyers were law abiding citizens, so Section 144 on rallies should be lifted to allow lawyers to stage rallies on Thursday. The court suspended the notification to the extent of the lawyers’ rally on The Mall.
Later talking to reporters on the court premises, the LBA president said that Section 144 was a law the British “left behind for the benefit of half-slave governments which use it whenever they feel a threat to their rule due to protests by the people”.
He said the imposition of Section 144 to ban public assembly was against the fundamental rights of Pakistanis as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. He said citizens have a right to protest against government policies and the government should have the courage to hear what people say. He said the government misused Section 144 to clamp down on dissent and criticism.
He said the traders of Hall Road and The Mall would participate in the lawyers’ rally on Thursday.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2011.
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