Mar 17, 2007

Lawyers Mobbed by Punjab Police

The All Pakistan Lawyers Convention was held under the auspices of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA), attended by approximately 3,000 lawyers, some political leaders, NGOs and even some students and faculty members from LUMS.

The Convention commenced at 10:00 a.m. at the Karachi Shuhada Hall of the LHCBA and the LHCBA Courtyard, both packed to capacity. The plan was that, after the convention, the lawyers would take out a peaceful procession to the Punjab Assembly and back. At about 11:00 a.m., lawyers started to march out from the LHCBA courtyard and towards the GPO Gate of the Lahore High Court (LHC). They were still in the precincts of the LHC parking lot when the police, without provocation, started teargassing the lawyers. Teargass shells were fired indiscriminately into the crowds, injuring dozens of people and temporarily incapacitating hundreds. Teargas cannisters were falling even inside the courtyard of the LHCBA.

Apparently, the entire Lahore High Court had been encircled by hundreds of riot police in full riot gear and with special riot control armoured cars with mounted teargas launchers. All the gates had been chained and barbed wire placed on all the gates. The 3,000 or so lawyers were trapped inside the Lahore High Court complex.

The lawyers, then attempted to leave from the other end, the Fane Road Gate of the Lahore High Court. This too was blocked. Then suddenly all hell broke loose with teargas cannister being launched into the LHC complex from all sides. For 3 long hours, the siege continued with teargas cannisters being fired into the LHC Complex at regular intervals. Each time the lawyers attempted to approach any gate, they were teargassed indiscriminately. One police cannister hit a lawyer’s car parked in the LHC parking area, and completely set fire to it.

The lawyers then started grabbing the still smoking teargass cannisters and throwing them back into the riot police from where they came. It looked less like the Lahore High Court and more like the Gaza Strip. Some lawyers and police also began exchanging bricks. A group of labourers working on the new LHC extension across Fane Road, not wanting to miss the action, also started throwing bricks at the Police from atop under-construction building. A group of policemen then went up and thrashed the labourers. Police also entered into nearby lawyers’ offices on Turner Road and ransacked the offices.

The Lahore High Court was under siege and under attack for 3 hours. The police indiscriminately fired teargas cannisters into the LHC, which also damaged some parts of the LHC Building. The police had no regard for the sanctity of the Lahore High Court and its over 100-year old building, which is a provincial high court, a part of the superior judiciary and a part of Pakistan’s heritage.

At around 2:00 p.m., after getting orders from above (reportedly on the intervention of some High Court judges), the police backed off. The lawyers then marched out of the LHC complex and had a peaceful sit-in on GPO Chowk, which lasted about an hour. This proved that the lawyers were no threat to the peace and would have peacefully protested had they been allowed to go out in the first place.

Once again, the Punjab Police has shown its high-handedness and needless and excessive use of force to prevent lawyers from exercising their right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, a right which is guaranteed to all citizens of Pakistan by the Constitution.

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