The PTI moved the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday to direct the federal government and other relevant authorities not to use “coercive measures or intimidating tactics”, resort to violence or create hindrances for party activists and leaders who intend to participate in the party’s second march on Islamabad, which they describe as an “upcoming peaceful assembly”.
The PTI made the request in an instant plea filed in the SC today.
The petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, gives a detailed account of the circumstances of the party’s last march on Islamabad on May 25.
That day, raucuous PTI workers forced their way through shipping containers in between them and Islamabad and were met with tear gas and police batons. They even made their way to the Red Zone, after which the military was called in.
On the eve of the march, the government rounded up over 1,000 PTI leaders and workers in a crackdown designed to derail the party’s plans for the march.
Section 144 was imposed in Lahore, the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and Karachi, as well as other major cities in the country, while the Punjab government sought the deployment of Rangers to control the law and order situation.
On May 26, Imran Khan had ended prematurely after giving a six-day deadline to the government for announcing elections and warning of returning to capital if his demand was not met.
The deadline ended today.
In the petition, filed by PTI secretary general Asad Umar today, the PTI also mentioned the no-trust motion that led to Imran’s ouster as the premier, stating that the party chairperson was removed from power “through a murky and illegally orchestrated vote of no confidence”. It also alluded to the “tainted and illegal” election of Hamza Shehbaz as the Punjab chief minister.
It was in this circumstance, the petition said, that the PTI held several rallies across the country in a peaceful manner, without causing any damage to any property or person, in order to “galvanise people against this illegally orchestrated regime change”.
Moreover, the petition added, “people of Pakistan, in hundreds of thousands, came out (unplanned) into the street to register their protest against the illegal removal” of Imran.
As the culmination of these assemblies, the PTI planned a march to Islamabad on May 25, in order to protest Imran’s ouster, seek “real freedom”, and draw the attention of incumbent government to the public sentiment.
The PTI contended in the petition that the “right to peacefully move, assemble, associate, speak and express are enshrined in Articles 15, 16, 17 and 19 of the Constitution”.
“It is now well-recognised that the right to protest is included in the aforesaid rights and every citizen of Pakistan and the political party, including its workers, members, leaders and supporters, have the right to assembly and protest peacefully with regards to matters relating to the governance and policy issues of Pakistan.”
But contrary to this mandate of fundamental rights, the authorities, on the interior ministry’s and Punjab government’s directions, arrested, tortured and baton-charged protesters, tear-gassed peaceful gatherings, destroyed private property during the May 25 march, the PTI said, adding that five of the party members lost their lives in the episode.
It also drew the court’s attention towards officials, particularly of the Punjab government, “harassing, intimidating, arresting and torturing the citizens of Pakistan as well as the workers and leaders of the petitioner, who only wanted to participate in the planned protests, in the exercise of their democratic rights”.
Moreover, the party said, the authorities installed roadblocks and containers in various cities, notably Islamabad, in a bid to prevent people from participating in the march.
“On the day of May 25, 2022, people were not allowed to go towards or reach Islamabad because of barbarity from the district administration and law enforcement agencies of the government of Punjab, as well as the Ministry of Interior. Access to Islamabad was totally blocked from all cities,” the petition read.
Furthermore, raids were carried out across Pakistan, and especially in Punjab, at the houses of citizens, workers and leaders of the PTI on the eve of the march, the petition said.
“Owing to this unlawful and mala fide exercise of state power, most of the members and supporters of the petitioner were unable to reach Islamabad … The respondents, and particularly officials of the Punjab province, as well as the Ministry of Interior, violated mandatory provisions of the Constitution and acted in a manner that amounts to state terrorism,” the PTI said. It added that it may also be mentioned here that “actions taken by the Punjab police were under the directions of an illegally constituted Punjab CM, who has not been properly elected under Article 130(4) of the Constitution”.
The PTI accused the government of “using different tactics to harass the citizens, petitioner, its leadership, workers, supporters and journalists, by using its state machinery, registering fake FIRs, and arresting people from different places through illegal use of state’s law enforcement machinery” since the fourth week of May, when the party made the call for “peaceful assemblies” across the country.
The party argued in the petition that such acts by the authorities were aimed at “thwarting the public will”.
It termed the government’s acts, as described in the petition, “illegal, unconstitutional, discriminatory, a violation of the due process of law and against, inter alia, the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution”.
The PTI said that while it had “lawfully and legitimately” announced another protest march culminating in Islamabad, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had announced on the media that it would not be allowed to hold the march.
“Such a statement is a clear declaration of intent from the government, in violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. Similar statements have been repeated by other officials of the federal and Punjab government,” the petition said, adding that the “mala fide purpose of all the above tactics is to create so much fear in the public-at-large that no one dares to participate in the planned protests of the petitioner”.
And “if the respondents succeed in their illegal tactics, the same will destroy the spirit of the Constitution and the public’s trust in our Constitution and the project of democracy”, the PTI said.
It underlined the court in Pakistan was the “guardian and protector of fundamental rights … and has a duty to enforce the same in exercise of its powers under Article 184(3) of the Constitution”.
“As such, the issued raised in the instant petition fall squarely within the ambit of Article 184(3) of the Constitution, requiring adjudication from this honourable court,” it added.
The PTI outlined various provisions of the Constitution that guarantee the right to hold peaceful protests and freedom of expression and prayed the court to direct the federal government, Punjab government and other parties “not [to] torture or arrest or use any force or coercive measures or intimidating tactics (including, without limitation, conducting of illegal raids in their houses), against the citizens of Pakistan and the supporters, workers, members and leaders of the public who want to peacefully hold any protest or assembly announced by the petitioner”.
It further requested the court to direct the authorities not to “create any hindrance or obstacle whatsoever, including blocking access to or from any place or city in any manner (inter alia by putting up containers etc.) or from restricting the movement of the people in any manner and through any means”.
Moreover, the authorities should be directed not to use “violence, including force or any strong-arm tactics against any citizen, supporter, worker, member or leader of the petitioner who chooses to participate in the upcoming peaceful assembly”, the PTI appealed to the court.
Besides making this prayer, the PTI said, it had approached the court for a “definite determination” on a set of questions of public importance, with reference to the enforcement of fundamental rights.
Questions raised by PTI
- Whether freedom of movement and the right to peaceful protest and procession are fundamental rights of all citizens of Pakistan under the Constitution?
- Whether constitutional rights, enshrined in Articles 4, 5, 8, 9, 10,14, 15, 16, 17, 19, and 25 of the Constitution, can be unreasonably curtailed by executive authorities through the use of disproportionate and unlawful force on peaceful citizenry?
- Whether the fundamental rights, enshrined in Articles 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19 and 25 of the Constitution must be respected and protected from unconstitutional and illegal curtailment by the governmental authorities?
- Whether the state and governmental agencies of Pakistan can unlawfully deprive citizens of their liberty, guaranteed under Article 9 and 10 of the Constitution, by arresting individuals who are participating in or intend to participate in a peaceful protest for the attainment of their democratic rights?
- Whether the governmental agencies can, without any cause or reason, browbeat, intimidate, or physically harm individuals and groups who gather for a peaceful procession, thus violating their inviolable dignity and privacy of home, as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution?
- Whether the citizens of Pakistan have the right to peacefully enter, move around and remain in various territories of Pakistan, in accordance with Article 15 of the Constitution?
- Whether the citizens have the right to peacefully assemble, protest and hold demonstrations, for the achievement of their democratic demands, in accordance with the letter and spirit of Article 16 of the Constitution?
- Whether the PTI, a duly registered political party, has the fundamental right to organise, associate and conduct a nationwide political rally, in accordance with Article 17 of the Constitution, without unlawful interference by the federal and provincial government authorities?
- Whether the arrest and detention of members of the PTI prior to or during a peacefully organised protest, amount to illegal detention and arrest, as well as a violation of the its rights under Article 17 of the Constitution?
The federal government, all four provincial governments and the inspector generals of police of the four provinces have been nominated as respondents in the petition.