IHC wraps up cases against AWP PTM activists, asks government to protect the right to freedom of expression
High Asia Herald Report
Islamabad: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday disposed of a petition of 23 workers who were arrested by the police last month for protesting against the arrest of PTM chief Manzoor Pashteen when the court was informed that all charges against the protesters had been dropped.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah wrapped up the bail petitions of 23 workers when Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat informed the court that the state had withdrawn the FIR and all charges against the activists
The Awami Workers Party (AWP) Punjab president Ammar Rashid, MNA Mohsin Dawar and AWP deputy secretary Ismat Shahjehan and two other women activists were among 29 other workers of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) who were arrested on January 28 from outside National Press Club for protesting PTM head’s arrest.
“After the statement of the Islamabad administration, all petitions have become ineffective,” said Chief Justice Minallah.
On February 2, the court was told that Section 124-A (related to sedition) had been deleted, but Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997 had been inserted in the First Information Report (FIR) against the protesters.
Following this, the IHC had sought an explanation from a magistrate for invoking sedition charges against those who were taken into custody during the protest.
During today’s proceedings, the chief justice said: “We don’t expect that a democratic government will curb freedom of expression.”
“[We] shouldn’t fear criticism,” he remarked.
“The constitutional courts will protect the constitutional rights of the people.
“Everyone’s constitutional rights will be protected. This is Pakistan, not India,” remarked Justice Minallah.
“If you want to protest, get permission. If you don’t get permission, the court is here,” he said.
Islamabad Advocate General said that a written order against those who speak against the state or make hate speeches should also be issued.
Upon this, Justice Minallah remarked that neither the state nor its institutions were “so weak” that mere words would have any impact.
The chief justice noted that the current government had itself challenged Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code — a law concerning the maintenance of public order — when President Arif Alvi had challenged it in 2014.
“[I] hope that they will not take away rights,” he added. “The country is a democracy, let the Parliament decide.”
Later, AWP Punjab President Ammar Rashid, one of the protesters who had been arrested, took to Twitter to share that the state had withdrawn the FIR and all charges against them.
He thanked those who expressed solidarity with them and campaigned for their release.
The state has withdrawn the FIR and all charges against us. Thank you to all who stood with us in solidarity. Hope this sets a lasting precedent against the criminalization of dissent, peaceful protest & freedom of expression in our country.
“We must now turn our attention to others languishing in prisons under trumped-up charges for exercising their democratic rights, particularly Baba Jan, the longest-serving political prisoner in our region.”