LAHORE: A three-judge bench of Lahore High Court (LHC), headed by Justice Ameenuddin Khan and comprising Justice Shahid Jamil Khan and Justice Shahid Karim, on Wednesday allowed Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) to go ahead with its sit-in on Lahore’s Mall Road today, but with certain conditions — including ending the sit-in by midnight.
The petition against the protest was filed by AK Dogar, stating that the political parties should not take part in the ‘grand protest’ as it is against the state. In a separate petition, traders in the area have requested the court to transfer the venue of the protest to Nasir Bagh, as they do not want their daily lives to be disrupted.
During the hearing, the court had noted the importance of the fact that residents of the provincial capital were unable to reach hospitals and schools due to the rally.
In preparation for the rally, the Mall Road was closed to traffic for the most part of Tuesday, creating hazards for commuters. On Tuesday, police facilitated PAT workers in transporting a container, hundreds of chairs and large screens for showing documentaries of the Model Town incident, and the sound system to the venue.
Early Wednesday morning, the stage was set and other arrangements were complete for the rally.
“Media should not cover the dharna after 12am,” court said in the verdict which had been reserved earlier in the day. “Lahore police should provide full security to the sit-in but the provincial government can take action if the sit-in gets violent.”
Justice Aminuddin Khan, reading the verdict, stressed that the sit-in should remain peaceful, and added: “No one should be allowed to take the law into their own hands”.
The hearing was then adjourned until January 31 after notices were sent to the respondents.
Punjab Advocate General (AG) Shakeelur Rehman and counsels of the respondents were present in court when the hearing took place. The home secretary, however, was not present in court and his absence was noted by the bench.
“He has a responsibility, he should have been here,” the bench had remarked.
Presenting his arguments before the bench, Advocate Dogar had said that if the government is not able to ensure compliance with the laws, it should not govern.
“Protests have been held in the past, the government has been sleeping,” he had said, adding that the government can use water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to stop the protest.
The petitioner had asked the court to order the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to direct media houses not to cover the protest so that it may die down itself.
“Democracy does not mean that the rights of the ordinary man are done away with,” the bench had remarked.
The Punjab government presented its report on the protest in court.
The AG said the protest administration has been informed of the security threats and problems related to the demonstration.
When asked by the court if the protest is a one-off demonstration or a continued sit-in, Dogar responded that from Qadri’s speeches it seems the protest will be a prolonged sit-in.
Pakistan Peoples Party’s counsel, Latif Khosa, when asked the same, informed the court that there are chances the protest could continue for more than a day.
On Tuesday, the full bench issued notices to the federal and provincial governments, besides the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).
The LHC had directed the PAT and other respondents to come up with a response on Wednesday morning.
Earlier, a new Lahore High Court (LHC) full bench was formed to conduct hearing into the case, after the recusal of Justice Irfan from the former bench.
Meanwhile, the LHC dismissed the plea requesting an initial order to stop the protest.
The administration had stated earlier that people protesting should not choose Mall Road, as Section 144 is in place in the area which forbids more than four people to gather at one place.
On January 8, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) Chairman Dr Tahirul Qadri had announced to launch a protest movement against the Punjab government for failing to bring the culprits of the Model Town killings to book. Mainstream opposition parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have announced their support for the movement for justice to the victims of the Model Town incident.