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December 14, 2019

PIC attack case: Lawyers boycott courts across country

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December 14, 2019

LAHORE: Lawyers across country boycotted courts on Friday to record their protest against registration of cases against those who were arrested over their alleged involvement in the attack on Lahore’s Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC).

The legal bodies demanded “immediate release” of arrested lawyers. They stayed away from the court proceedings and held a meeting and chalked out future action plan. The courts were presenting a deserted look as a small number of lawyers visited courts, fearing arrest. The litigants also abstained from coming to courts as the cases were adjourned without hearing.

A statement issued by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) said the protest was “against partial and biased conduct of the local police and the administration of Lahore against lawyers as well as action taken by the Islamabad High Court against Umair Baloch, secretary general of Islamabad High Court Bar Association.”

Lawyers’ joint actioncommittee formed on the matter also supported the strike call and said that lawyers would not appear in courts. They claimed that the arrested lawyers were tortured by police and demanded their immediate release.

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and various local bar associations also supported the strike call. In the aftermath of the attack, police had arrested 81 protesters. An anti-terrorism court in Lahore on Thursday had sent over 46 of them on judicial remand while turning down a police request for their physical remand to investigate charges of attacking the PIC.

The Shadman police had lodged two FIRs against 200-250 lawyers which included Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Meanwhile, Proficient Lawyers Society filed a petition in the LHC seeking answers from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) over “one-sided” coverage of the matter. The petition also seeks answers from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority on the viral “controversial” videos showing lawyers attacking the PIC.

It also calls for an explanation from Punjab Police chief Shoaib Dastagir on the alleged use of excessive force against lawyers. There was a heavy presence of law-enforcement personnel at and near the LHC premises as lawyers gathered to raise slogans against the police and administration.

In LHC, protesting lawyers also stormed into the courtroom of Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and sought to end judicial proceedings for the day. “It is my responsibility to ensure continuity of judicial proceedings,” Justice Naqvi told the protesters.

He said it was up to lawyers to decide whether they appear for their cases but there would be no delay on the court’s part. Urging the protesters to resolve the matter, the judge advised them to visit the PIC with flower bouquets and “hug out” their differences with the doctors and administration.

Earlier on Friday while addressing a press conference in Lahore, former president Supreme Court Bar Association Hamid Khan condemned the PIC incident, saying it was "nothing short of a national tragedy".

He said that lawyers' purpose was not to hurt anybody, adding: "It is perhaps not right to put all the blame for the incident on lawyers." Khan said that the government had left the matter regarding the lawyers and doctors pending for many days. "Because of its neglect, the government let the matter escalate," he said.

Khan alleged that a "secret hand" which wanted to "ruin the system and deteriorate conditions" was behind the matter. "Some powers want to destroy the legal community and bring dictatorship in the country," the SCBA member said, adding that lawyers do not have any animosity with doctors.

"Those who escalated this matter should be exposed." Khan condemned the humiliation caused to lawyers by presenting them in the anti-terrorism court and the action taken against the Islamabad High Court Bar Association secretary-general. He called for the immediate release of all arrested lawyers.

Former SCBA president Mian Israrul Haq, former LHCBA president Mian Abdul Qadus were also present and expressed the same views. In a statement, the SCBAP said the bar association “through a unanimous resolution strongly rejects and condemns the unlawful allegations levelled against [the] legal fraternity” in the wake of the PIC incident.

“SCBAP downrightly discards the allegations regarding direct involvement of lawyers community attacking the said hospital rather the lawyers’ community gathered outside the PIC building to record peaceful protest against the unwarranted speech from the goons that have been hiding in the ranks of medical community that was the root-cause of the reaction which provoked the whole legal fraternity,” the statement read.

The SCBAP expressed “grave concern” over the “unlawful arrests” of lawyers and “torture during their detention and inhumane behaviour with them by the Punjab police”. They said the strike was also in solidarity with Umair Baloch.

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