Serious charges

 
February 20, 2020

The Islamabad High Court on Monday wrapped up the bail petitions of 23 protesters who had been arrested on January 28 this year while protesting the arrest of PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen. Charges of...

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The Islamabad High Court on Monday wrapped up the bail petitions of 23 protesters who had been arrested on January 28 this year while protesting the arrest of PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen. Charges of sedition and terrorism had been brought against the small group. There is no evidence that the students during their protests had resorted to any kind of violence. More significant during the hearing of the case against the protesters were the remarks made by Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court Justice Athar Minallah. The honourable judge first of all demanded that the magistrate who had booked the students for sedition, terrorism be asked to explain why he had brought these charges and how they were justified. The deputy commissioner of Islamabad appeared before the court on Monday and said that all charges had been withdrawn.

The protesters therefore stand free. While the attorney general suggested that the bench issue a warning against threats or slogans against the state or any of its institutions, Justice Minallah responded that a group of 23 protesters cannot possibly present any danger to the state which is hopefully far too strong to be damaged by mere slogans. In addition, the court pointed out that Pakistan must not go the way of India and must do all it can to defend the right of free expression and peaceful protests. In the court, the matter ended at this point. Outside the courtroom, we should be carefully considering the remarks made during the hearing.

Sedition and terrorism are all extremely serious charges and should not be lodged lightly against any individual or group. When this happens, they lose all meaning and the state itself is stripped of authority or authenticity. There is a very limited number of people who would be willing to believe that 23 young people could somehow present a danger to the whole structure of the country. It is also true that India has faced expanding global criticism for the manner in which it has handled protests by students, minority groups and others. Rather than stooping to the same level Pakistan needs to prove it is a true democracy and is ready to tolerate and accept peaceful protests. This, more than anything else, would bring it a good name in the world. The lessons learnt in court then need to be remembered and used in ordinary life to avoid further such incidents.



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