March 17, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
The Supreme Court Bar Association (SBCA) on Thursday filed a petition in the Supreme Court (SC) to seek the court’s direction for barring the government and the opposition from holding any public gatherings in Islamabad that could create a hindrance for members of the National Assembly from attending a session of parliament ahead of a no-trust vote.
The federal government and the opposition parties have announced simultaneous massive public gatherings at D-Chowk in front of the Parliament building on March 27, ahead of the last day to summon a session of the National Assembly to consider a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan submitted by the opposition parties.
In his petition, SCBA president Ahsan Bhoon pointed out that since the submission of the requisition and no-confidence resolution, the political activities of both the treasury and opposition parties have intensified to an alarming level.
“Both sides are issuing threats to each other and the Government has clearly indicated that it will use all means necessary to thwart any attempt by the treasury members, belonging to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, to cast their vote,” reads the petition.
According to media reports, all means could be used to prevent any dissenting PTI members from attending the anticipated session of the National Assembly, Bhoon said.
The petition cited statements from federal ministers, advisers and Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as from the opposition leaders about holding massive public gatherings at D-Chowk, a red zone area of the federal capital.
“Therefore, any attempt to undermine the said process (of no-confidence resolution), either by the treasury or the opposition, goes against the very spirit of the Constitution and democracy,” reads the petition.
Bhoon prayed that the apex court directs “all state functionaries to act strictly in accordance with the Constitution and the law and they be restrained from acting in any manner detrimental to and unwarranted by the Constitution and the law”.
In addition, the government, law enforcement agencies and the opposition should prevent ‘any assembly, gathering, public meetings and/or procession, which can create any hindrance or has the effect of preventing the Members of the National Assembly from reaching the Parliament House and Parliament Lodges’.
Similarly, the petition pleaded that the government should be restrained from hindering or preventing or creating any obstacles to any member of the National Assembly from attending the session of the National Assembly.
The petition referred to a recent police raid on the Parliament Lodges to point out that state power was being used against political rivals.
The petitioner requests the court to restrain the government from taking any coercive measures/actions against members of the National Assembly including their arrest and detention.
The petitioner seeks the court’s direction to protect the vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister, anticipated to be held on March 28, which was constitutionally an important event being the prime minister’s election.
“Any attempt to sabotage, disturb or distort the vote of no-confidence, offends not only the sanctity of the Constitution, but also the people’s right to be governed by a government of their choice,” reads the petition.
The petition cites judgments of the apex court on the sits-in Islamabad in 2014 and 2017 in context of similar protests and sit-ins that had violated citizens’ fundamental rights under Articles 9, 14, 15, 16, 23 and 24 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court had admitted the SCBA petition in 2014 and restrained the respondents from “acting in any manner unwarranted by the Constitution and the law.”
The petitioner states that the announced protests/sit-in in Islamabad would foreseeably be a repetition of events that triggered the apex court’s suo motu of the Faizabad Dharna in 2017.
Referring to the statement of the Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid that the Speaker would bar the defecting PTI MNAs from voting in the no-confidence motion, the petitioner also sought a court direction for the Speaker to discharge his duties, perform his functions and dispose of the proceedings on the motion for no-confidence in accordance with the Constitution and the NA Rules of Procedure.
The secretaries of interior and defence, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in NA, the Speaker, the Secretary of NA Secretariat, the Islamabad Chief Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner, and the Islamabad Inspector General of Police have been made respondents in the petition.
IHC refuses to intervene in D-Chowk protests
The Islamabad High Court on Thursday said no citizen or a political party could be prevented from holding a peaceful protest, turning down a citizen’s petition for banning public gatherings at D-Chowk in Islamabad ahead of a no-confidence resolution in the National Assembly.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah was hearing a petition against the holding of public protests in the capital’s Red Zone and D-Chowk in front of Parliament. Petitioner Asma Malik pleaded that the federal capital faced a threat from violent protests and clashes in view of simultaneous public gatherings announced by the government and the opposition there.
Chief Justice Minallah observed that the court could not bar a citizen or a political party from holding a peaceful protest. The court said it would hold everyone from the interior minister to the deputy commissioner responsible in case of any unrest at these public gatherings.
The Chief Justice said it was the responsibility of the Islamabad administration and the interior minister to ensure protests stay peaceful in the federal capital. The administration was to give permission and hold the responsibility of protests and gatherings in Islamabad, Chief Justice Minallah observed. The court could neither allow nor stop the protests, the Chief Justice added.
The Islamabad High Court directed the administration to decide with full responsibility for holding of protests and disposed of the petition.