At least three cardiac patients lost their lives on Wednesday when scores of lawyers stormed the Punjab Institute of Cardiology vandalizing the facility and thrashing everyone in sight apparently to “settle the score” with doctors who, they claimed, had attacked one of their colleagues and then disseminated a video clip ridiculing them.
The enraged lawyers broke windowpanes, doors and equipment at Punjab’s largest cardiac facility and also set fire to several vehicles, including a police van. Witnesses reported that the protesters also thrashed medics and patients in the emergency ward of the hospital.
The government confirmed that three patients, including a 70-year-old woman, had died during the violence.
“The patients died because doctors failed to provide them with timely treatment and remained engaged in averting the assault,” Punjab Health Minister Yasmeen Rashid said at a news conference.
Some of the protesting lawyers fired gunshots and pelted police with stones and bricks, according to Ashraf Nizami, a doctor at the hospital.
“It was catastrophic for hours,” Nizami said, adding that several patients were left unattended for hours, during the violence. The attackers forced doctors and nurses to flee, leaving patients in the emergency ward and intensive care unit (ICU) unattended.
The lawyers started gathering at Aiwan-e-Adl early in the morning and then reached GPO Chowk where they were joined by their colleagues from the Lahore High Court before marching towards the cardiac hospital on Jail Road.
A few policemen were deployed at the hospital to prevent the protesters from entering the premises. However, hundreds of lawyers, many of them carrying sticks, descended upon the medical facility and forced their way inside. Several of them threw stones at the hospital.
Provincial Information Minister Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan, who rushed to the scene to mediate, was also roughed up by angry lawyers. Police fired tear gas and baton charged the protesters while terrified patients and hospital staff fled to safety. Many lawyers were arrested.
After the police managed to disperse the protesters at the hospital, the lawyers assembled against at GPO Chowk and blocked The Mall Road, demanding the arrest of the doctor who had ridiculed lawyers in the video clip.
Private TV channels showed live footage of the scuffles from the scene where some of the lawyers were also seen brandishing pistols.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, who ordered an inquiry into the incident, directed the Punjab government to take stern action against all those involved in the attack.
“It is a shame that some people would go and attack a hospital,” said Nadeem Afzal Chan, the premier’s spokesperson.
Government official Kamran Ali said the lawyers were enraged over what they said was the beating by doctors of a lawyer at the hospital over his refusal to get in a queue of patients.
He said the lawyers were particularly angry about the video on social media in which a man claiming to be a doctor was ridiculing them for being unable to do anything over the thrashing of their colleague.
According to sources, the decision to vandalise the hospital was not a sudden one. In fact, the lawyers ran a campaign on Facebook pages calling on their colleagues to respond to the video clip. The dispute between the lawyers and doctors had been settled earlier but the video flared tempers again.
Sources said bar representatives were also involved in allowing lawyers to march towards the hospital. However, Amjad Shah, the vice chairman of Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), denied the involvement of the bar representatives at any level in the incident.
“There are some young lawyers involved in the incident,” he added, condemning the attack and pledging to take action against the lawyers who participated in it.
Sources also said that the candidates contesting the Lahore Bar Association (LBA) and the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) elections scheduled to be held in the coming two months were compelled by lawyers to support the protest.
PBC Vice Chairman Shah Nawaz Ismaeel, member Ahsan Bhoon, LHCBA President Hafeezur Rehman, Secretary Fiyaz Ranjha and LBA President Asim Cheema met Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh, the nominated chief justice of the Lahore High Court, demanding the release of the arrested lawyers.
They also demanded the removal of sections 7 ATA and 302 PPC from the FIRs registered against them.
(With additional input from AFP and Reuters)