ISLAMABAD: Addressing widespread concerns of a possible clash between parliamentarians and political workers on Constitution Avenue, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Saturday ruled against any political gathering in Red Zone which houses important government institutions including the Parliament House, Supreme Court, Presidency and the Prime Minister Office.
Besides, Sindh House, Punjab House, Balochistan House, KPK House, Election Commission of Pakistan, residences of the apex court judges and other key installations are also located within the Red Zone.
After Thursday’s attack on the Sindh House by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers and activists, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, in a tweet,had expressed the government’s inability to handle enraged protesters.
“Sindh House is in a very sensitive area where Chief Justice House, Ministers Colony and other important residences are located. Peoples Party and PML-N should shift the turncoats to some other building otherwise this show will continue for a month and we are unable to stop all the [enraged] protestors,” the minister tweeted.
The ruling party has announced that it will hold a gathering of a million people outside the Parliament House in a bid to support its leader, Imran Khan, and to apparently deter party’s lawmakers from casting votes.
Information Minister Chaudhry termed the PTI public gatherings a “public referendum”, and said those who intend to cast their votes had to pass through over a million PTI supporters to reach the Parliament House and upon return, face the same crowd.
The opposition alliance, on the other hand, had also warned that it would flood D-Chowk with its supporters.
While disposing of the petition filed by lawyer Mohammad Asif Gujjar, IHC Justice Aamer Farooq observed that while “political, religious or social gathering is a norm in every civilised society, sine qua non is that they be lawful, peaceful, without arms and in accordance with the Constitution and legal provisions”.
He noted that “any assembly, which violates such provision, cannot be termed ‘lawful’ and for such purposes, it is mandated in the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, 1960, to obtain permission from the magistrate or other competent authority.”
The court order then specifically made it clear that no such gathering could take place in the area “declared Red Zone where assembly is prohibited”.
D-Chowk, also referred to as Democracy Chowk, is a large town square located on the junction of Jinnah Avenue and Constitution Avenue in the federal capital. The actual location of D-Chowk was just in front of the Parliament House in the Red Zone. However, during the tenure of former ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, D-Chowk was a prohibited area. Later, its adjacent Parade Ground Chowk informally came to be known as “D-Chowk”.
The place was a frequent venue of political gatherings. In April 2016, the government decreed that the square should be rebuilt to make it a no-go area for protesters. However, political rallies continue to be held there.
Justice Farooq observed that the district authorities must keep in mind this aspect while finalising the terms and condition of political assembly.
However, citing a recent decision authored by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, the learned judge noted that the court had already declared that the prime responsibility of maintaining public order was on the interior minister and his subordinates.
The said judgement stated that “they shall be jointly and severally accountable for any hardship suffered by the citizens or damage caused to property pursuant to their decisions”.
The petitioner, advocate Gujjar, was seeking multiple directions to the federal government and the Islamabad administration for doing the needful in respect of holding any assembly or gathering in D-Chowk or Red Zone.
The petitioner submitted that it had come to his knowledge through print, electronic and social media that various political parties had announced that they would hold assemblies and gatherings at D-Chowk, which fell in Red Zone and perhaps because of the same, roads in Islamabad would be blocked and serious law and order situation might arise, which would infringe fundamental rights of the citizens.
It was contended that in a judgement of this court reported as ‘Faiz Ahmed Cheema Vs. Federation of Pakistan, the IHC observed that all assemblies and gatherings of political and religious nature should be held on Parade Ground which had attained finality.
It was further contended that in light of the referred judgement, the district magistrate as well as other relevant bodies were required to act in accordance with the same.
The petitioner conceded that lawful gathering or assembly was a fundamental right as enshrined in the Constitution, however, it was argued that same was to be examined in juxtaposition with Article 9 which provided that every person had a right of life, liberty and safety.
The court noted that “it is the fundamental right of a person, under Article 9 of the Constitution, that he shall not be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law.”
“Fundamental rights as provided in the Constitution are to be counter balanced, as on one hand, a citizen has a right to move freely without any restriction and yet on the other, a citizen has the right to assemble peacefully; the freedom to assemble has to give way to the freedom for movement, but that of course, does not mean that any bar or restriction is placed on peaceful assembly, however, it only means that assembly should be in such a way that freedom of life and movement of any citizen is not hampered and hence his fundamental right is not violated,” the court order stated.
The court declined to issue direction for holding political gathering on Parade Ground, however, it asked government functionaries “to ensure that referred political parties or any other person, does not violate the law or infringe fundamental right of the petitioner or any citizen”.