Mall Road rally ban: Court seeks answers over failure to implement orders

The LHC had ordered a ban on gatherings in a verdict in November 2011

Our Correspondent February 17, 2017
Lahore High Court PHOTO: EXPRESS

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court has issued notices to the Punjab police chief and the home secretary to reply on a petition against the government’s failure to stop protest rallies on Mall Road.

On February 13, a suicide bomber ripped through a protest staged by chemists and medical store owners against recent changes in drugs law. The bombing has so far claimed the lives of 15 people while dozens more are hospitalised with injuries.

On Friday, Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh issued the notices to the respondents for April 11 on the petition filed by Advocate Sheraz Zaka, who argued that if the ban on rallies on Mall Road had been imposed, the Charing Cross blast would have been avoided. He added terrorists were currently targeting areas where people gathered in large numbers.

In November 2011, the Lahore High Court had banned staging any rallies on Mall Road.

The petitioner contended that although protests were a fundamental right of citizens, they increased the chances of a terror attack as people gathered in large numbers, as was the case on February 13.

The counsel argued that protests on busy roads like the Mall not only hamper traffic, but restrict the movement of people and also affect business activity, which in itself is a fundamental right. He said when two fundamental rights conflict, then community’s interest must take precedence over that of a few individuals.

He requested the court to issue notices to the Punjab IGP and home secretary to file paragraph-wise comments. The court consequently issued the notices and adjourned the hearing till April 11.

Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry, a then judge of the LHC, imposed a ban on protest rallies on Mall Road in November 2011. The orders were issued as he disposed of a petition by a traders association of the Mall.

The court told the Punjab government, through the chief secretary and inspector general, to ensure implementation of the order and allocate alternate locations for rallies or protests of any kind.

It stated traders of the area faced a permanent nuisance and business losses due to protests. The court, at the time, warned the IG that failure to implement the ban would be considered contempt.

Separately, a contempt of court petition by Babar Mir was also taken up by a single bench of the LHC. The petitioner, a representative of the traders of Hall Road, sought contempt of court proceedings against Punjab government officials for the suicide blast at Charing Cross. Appearing before the court, a law officer said the government had formed a policy to ensure the ban was being implemented according to court orders.

To this, Justice Ayesha A Malik said the Charing Cross incident had nothing to do with contempt of court. The judge dismissed the petition, saying the government had devised its policy for protests and therefore no contempt of court took place.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2017.


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