December 13, 2020

By Asra Haque, Munizae Jahangir & Xari Jalil


At the Lahore High Court lawyers chanted slogans against the PTI government. The media had been banned from court premises – lawyers were livid over coverage of the protest that devolved into a violent siege of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology on Dec 11. They claim one side of the story was presented, as a result of which lawyers were being vilified in the public eye.

Lawyers bring receipts

The lawyers shared recorded footage of them being tortured and beaten. One video of Barrister Syed Nagra showed him struck hard in the head by a baton by the police on the day of the attack. He went into a coma and only now has been showing signs of recovery.

Munir Hussain Bhatti displayed his wounds after being brutally beaten by the police that day. He was later arrested, spending 2 days in police custody before he was allowed to walk free.

Torture in police custody

Lawyers who were presented in the anti-terrorism court on the Dec 12th, their faces were covered with a black hoods. Bar leaders claimed that the 81 lawyers in police custody were tortured, providing us evidence in the form of picture taken of Advocate Sajjad Baloch who had been brought to court that day, his back bearing torture marks.

Even women lawyers were not spared. Advocate Shakeela Rana and 6 of her fellow lawyers, Razia Rana, Faiza Batool, Syeda Sadaf, Asma Bhatti were kept in custody overnight at the Hadiyara jail. Shakeela Rana said she was mercilessly beaten by young doctor.

There are currently 81 lawyers in police custody. The case is being pursued in the Lahore High Court and the anti terrorism court. Although the court have ordered that no further arrests should be made, lawyers claim that raids are being conducted at their homes in spite of these orders. They also claim that those wounded in police custody have not been given any medical aid.

The flip side of the coin

Over at the PIC, things slowly but surely were gaining pace. The burnt police van has been removed, but patients who had lost their loved ones still carry the wounds of that day. Police deployed at the hospital created an atmosphere of caution and wariness.

But security guard Aamir recalled the event vividly, relaying that he had seen lawyers aiming for security cameras as they raided. They had managed to break the one at the VIP gate. Aamir was one of the few employees who were ready to give information, however scant, to media. Others however were deterred from speaking, for fears that their statements may be used against them, compromising their continued employment.

Questions on the government and police

Some were not happy with the role of the government and the police, who stood by while the mob marched from the High Court to the PIC on foot, chanting slogans.

President of the Grand Health Alliance at PIC, Mohammad Afzal, insisted that the government should have intervened to calm tensions.

Immediately after the initial clash between doctors and lawyers at the PIC on Nov 23, doctors had issued a formal apology to lawyers. However, a video of a young doctor poking fun at the lawyers’ helplessness during the Nov 23 incident went viral, incensing lawyers.

According to Afzal, it was apparent that the lawyers were planning a movement or protest against doctors – and the government should have taken the initiative to step in and settle things amicably between the two clashing parties.

Although he saluted Dr. Yasmin Rashid, Provincial Minister For Primary & Secondary Healthcare, Afzal noted that her visit to the hospital and affected patients was far later than it needed to be.

When informed of the custodial torture police were subjecting lawyers to, Asghar promptly denounced it. Others like Dr. Mubashir Ali however shrugged at the news, saying it was something the lawyers should have expected to happen if they intended to get violent.

Collateral damage

In this war between doctors and lawyers, the patients of PIC and their families have been unnecessarily dragged into it. The lives lost during the attack were exclusively patients, and bereaved loved ones question who should be held responsible for their loss: the fighting parties, the police who remained on the bylines for hours as the rampage went on, or the government?

On the night of Dec 12, senior advocates extended an olive branch by laying out flowers in memory and mourning of the patients who lost their lives during the incident. A gesture that came after the Grand Health Alliance declared they will deny medical treatment and certificates to lawyers – flying in the face of the Hippocratic Oath.