By Inayat Amir
Islamabad: The Islamabad High Court has restrained the capital police from arresting a human rights defender, a journalist, and Baloch students on sedition and criminal conspiracy charges.
The court put on notice the secretaries of interior and human rights ministries, the capital’s chief commissioner, and top cop to appear before the court on Monday and justify the excessive force used against peaceful protesters followed by registration of a criminal case.
Lawyer and Human Rights Defence Committee member Imaan Zainab Mazari, journalist Asad Ali Tur and MNA Mohisn Dawar were booked for participating in a protest organised by Baloch students outside National Press Club in Islamabad on Thursday.
They had joined the students who were protesting for the return of Hafeez Baloch, a student of MPhil at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), who was picked up by security agencies from his home town in Balochistan 28 days ago. They also protested against the racial profiling of Baloch students and the prevalent culture of fear at QAU.
The students reported multiple instances of harassment and interrogation by an individual who they identified as ‘Major Murtaza’ following the intensified attack on law enforcement agencies in Balochistan.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah during the hearing on Friday observed that he would not allow anyone to be harassed over criticism while hearing a petition filed by Imaan to unseal the FIR against her.
“We will not let this happen. The students of Balochistan should be heard,” CJ Minallah remarked, and directed police to provide of a copy of the FIR to Ms Imaan.
The CJ also remarked that sedition cases should be registered against those who forcibly deny the right to assembly and right of expression.
“Satisfy the court, having regard to the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. In case they fail to satisfy the Court, then they are expected to identify the officials responsible for violating the rights of members of a peaceful assembly and the mode for ensuring their accountability.”
Imaan’s counsel said that during the protest, police attacked the protesters injuring several of them. The lawyer urged the court to look into the matter of missing Baloch students.
Imaan Zainab is also the daughter of Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari.
In her petition, she urged IHC for the de-sealing of an FIR registered by the capital police against more than 200 people for attending an ongoing protest sit-in against the enforced disappearance of Baloch students.
She had also pleaded with the court to declare the police’s actions illegal and unconstitutional.
On Tuesday, police assaulted the peaceful protestors with bamboo sticks and manhandled lawyer and activist Imaan after she came forward to defend the students from police aggression and recover the student’s snatched cellphones from the custody of the police.
On the other hand the Islamabad police have said that the case of sedition was registered against Iman Mazari, National Democratic Movement leader MNA Mohsin Dawar, and hundreds of Baloch students for ‘rebellion, rioting, and raising of anti-state slogans.’
The IHC will hear the case again on Monday.
“Acts of violence and amounting to sedition on part of state functionaries are unpardonable and intolerable,” The CJ observed.
The petition says police, district admin misuse powers to suppress voices of dissent and right to hold a peaceful assembly
The petitioner asserted that the police misused powers to suppress voices of dissent and the right to hold a peaceful protest.
It said the petitioner received information through the electronic media that a criminal case had been registered against her and the other peaceful participants of the assembly.
Senior superintendent of police (SSP), was present in the court in relation to another case.
In response to the court’s query, SSP Faisal Kamran confirmed that a criminal case dated March 1, 2022, had been registered under section 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 147 (rioting), 149 (unlawful assembly, 186 (obstructing public service), 188 (disobedience), 353 (assault on public servant), 500 (defamation) and 504 (insult) of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
The court observed that a plain reading of the FIR shows that prima facie the public functionaries had abused powers vested in them merely to disperse a peaceful assembly of young citizens.
“Raising slogans, no matter how harsh, by no stretch of the imagination, can be treated as a criminal conspiracy or an offence. The offences mentioned in the FIR also show that prima facie, an attempt has been made to create a chilling effect to discourage dissent and expressing grievances stemming from the acts or inaction of the State,” the court order stated.
Such abuse of power is intolerable in a society governed under a constitution, it said.
The court added that “it is seditious to suppress voices of dissent or to discourage raising grievances against the State, its institutions or the public functionaries. Moreover, young citizens, particularly belonging to the province of Balochistan ought to be encouraged by the State and public functionaries to express themselves and to create an enabling environment so that they may participate in political debates, uninhibited and without any fear.”
Justice Minallah observed that suppression of or interference with peaceful assembly through the use of force and abuse of power is the gravest transgression and breach of the fiduciary duty, which the public functionaries owed to each citizen.
The court noted that such abuse of power is not the first case that had been brought before the court. The repeated abuse of powers to target certain classes and to suppress dissent, criticism and political debate is intolerable in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which is governed under the Constitution.
The court also issued notice to the attorney general for assistance.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan Bar Council and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) condemned the use of force against the Baloch students and invoked the section related to criminal conspiracy against them.
The report sought the arrest of siblings
The IHC chief justice also took up a petition filed by Syed Pervaiz Zahoor against the arrest of his son Ali, a serving inspector of the Balochistan police, and daughter Barishna Pervaiz on Thursday night reports Dawn newspaper.
Mr Zahoor, a former deputy inspector general (DIG), is an enrolled advocate of the Supreme Court.
Islamabad High Court Bar Association (IHCBA) President Shuaib Shaheen and Advocate Javed Akbar Shah appeared on behalf of the petitioner.
Mr Shah claimed that since the petitioner was a close confidant of Akhtar Mengal of BNP (Mengal), the FIR was registered as political victimisation.
SSP Faisal Kamran told the court that the siblings were arrested pursuant to registration of the FIR.
He said they were accused of selling liquor and the police in a late-night raid on their house recovered about 50 bottles of liquor.
Justice Minallah wondered how the police could know about the presence of liquor in the bedrooms of citizens. However, he directed the SSP to hold an inquiry and submit a report by Monday.
The writer is an Islamabad based journalist. His Twitter handle is @Inayat_Amir07