Murder will out: Judge orders Sharif govt to make Model Town tragedy probe public

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  • LHC Justice Mazahar Ali Naqvi orders chief secretary to take necessary action on plea filed by families of at least 14 PAT workers killed by police in June 2014
  • Punjab govt reluctant to disclose report, considering intra-court appeal against verdict
  • Law minister Sanaullah says some parts of report can incite sectarian violence

 

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court’s (LHC) decision Thursday, ordering the Punjab government to release the Model Town tragedy report, has added to the Sharifs’ woes as the ruling family is already reeling from the Panama Papers case fallout.

LHC’s Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi decided on a writ petition filed by victims’ families and directed the Punjab home secretary to take necessary action.

At least 14 workers of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) were killed by the police during clashes near the Minhajul Quran Secretariat in Lahore’s Model Town area on June 17, 2014.

The Punjab government had set up a judicial commission under LHC Justice Baqir Ali Najfi to investigate the incident and fix responsibility on those found guilty of ordering the excessive police action. The Punjab government later formed a joint investigation team on the basis of the judicial enquiry but refrained from making the report public.

PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, while lauding the decision of making the report public, said the party has been waiting for justice for over three years.

Lashing out at former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, he said that the ex-PM has been relentlessly hitting out at judiciary for disqualifying him in the Panamagate case.

“He could not stop criticising the judiciary for disqualifying him in a single reference. Our 14 men were martyred, [but] we did not lose our patience,” he added.

Speaking on TV later in the day — after a high-level meeting with Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif — Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the government would follow the court’s orders, but only the decision of the full court on Monday, September 25.

Parts of the report, he said, touch upon sectarian and security issues and are too sensitive for public view.

“But whatever the full court decides on the issue, we will implement,” he said.

PLAYING FOR TIME:

Earlier the government announced filing an intra-court appeal (ICA) immediately upon receiving the court’s directive in writing. Yet legal and political onlookers believe the government is only playing for time. Eventually, it will have to make the report public, they say.

“The Sept 21 judgement is complete in itself and independent of the Sept 25 hearing,” said Saiful Mulook, Supreme Court advocate and former vice president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA).

“Article-201 of the constitution requires all executive authority to obey all judgements of the courts.”

The government, therefore, will have to either present the report or file the ICA. It cannot ignore the judgement.

Yet even the appeal is unlikely to gain the government too much time.

“An appeal comes into play when a party’s rights have been injured,” Saif explained. “This judgement has not trampled upon anybody’s rights, so no bench is likely to grant the government a stay order.”

The writ petition seeking access to the report centred on Article-19 (A) of the constitution, which ensures fundamental rights of citizens to access to information in all matters of public interest.

Access to information was recognised as a fundamental right through the insertion of Article-19(A) in the constitution by the 18th Amendment.

“Granting a stay on this matter amounts to suspending fundamental rights; it will never happen,” he went on, adding that “Article-8 forbids even parliament from legislating against fundamental rights”.

SELF-DEFEATING:

It is not immediately clear what the government hopes to gain by resisting the court’s ruling, despite claiming it has nothing to hide.

“Appealing the judgement will only confirm our doubts,” said Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Mahmoodur Rasheed, leader of the opposition in Punjab Assembly.

All opposition parties have backed Minhajul Quran’s demand of making the report public.

“If they really have nothing to hide, why would they keep the report hidden?” Mahmood added.

PML-N did itself no service, according to Rasheed, by trying to muscle out of the incident in its aftermath. Instead of conducting a transparent enquiry and holding the guilty accountable, it tried to manipulate the evidence and portray unarmed victims as the attackers, he said.

On June 19, 2004, two days after the incident, Punjab Police officers were filmed interfering with medical records at a hospital where the wounded were being treated. News reports suggested they were trying to alter medico-legal certificates of injured police officials to show fake bullet injuries to back the official claim (that PAT workers shot at the police).

“They’ve been trying to deflect the blame since the first day,” said Noor Ullah Siddiqui, Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) information secretary.

“Now, even after the court’s ruling, they are practically bending over backwards to keep vital facts from the public.”

They contradict Rana Sanaullah’s claims of providing Dr Qadri with a copy of the report.

“We have not read the report, but their own actions prove their names are in it. There’s no other explanation for their actions,” he added.

And if some parts are indeed sensitive, as the law minister implied, PAT is happy not to compromise national security, or upset sectarian tendencies, by pressing for the complete text.

“Just tell us who ordered the shooting and who carried out the orders, that’s all,” Noor said.

SHARIFS’ FATE:

The ruling has clearly come at an awkward time for the PML-N in general and the Sharif family in particular.

The Panama verdict and subsequent NAB references have already forced the elder Sharif out of politics and out of the country. Analysts believe Nawaz and his children have gone into temporary exile till this storm blows over.

With Shehbaz being elevated to lead the party, rumours of a new PML-N – knitted around Shehbaz and Chaudhry Nisar – were already doing the rounds. Shehbaz’s meeting with Nisar a few days ago, which preceded Nisar’s harsh comments against Shahid Khaqan’s cabinet, only fueled such speculation.

The LHC ruling now threatens to take the wind out of such plans, especially if the report is personally damning for Shehbaz. If push comes to shove, he will not just lose the CM’s seat and a possible elevation to PM, but could also face criminal charges.

Shehbaz is now scheduled to fly to London once again, on Sept 23, which is giving rise to another type of speculation.

“For now he’s running here and there trying to wriggle out of this situation and look for an NRO,” said PTI’s Mahmoodur Rasheed.

But the weight of this ruling, not to mention reopening of the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, hanging over them, the opposition sees the noose constantly tightening around the Sharifs.

“Eventually it seems he will also join his brother in exile in London.”

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. One by one, what always remained beyond belief, at long last, by some miracle, combined with relentless effort by Imran Khan and his PTI to bring Pakistan’s political Mafia Dons to justice seems to be bearing fruit.

  2. let the truth be finally told. we owe it to the grieving families. Justice delayed is justice denied. Why is the punjab Govt. uneasy?

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