June 7, 2023
The Progressive Democratic Lawyers Forum, with the support of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, organized a conference titled “Repression in the Era of Civil Rights” to discuss the deteriorating democratic situation in Pakistan following the May 9 riots.
The event, held in the Dr. Javed Iqbal Auditorium at the Lahore High Court, was attended by progressive lawyers, students, political workers and civil society activists. Denouncing the trial of civilians in military courts, speakers called on the legal fraternity to preserve citizens’ constitutional rights.
Syed Muzammil Shah, a political analyst for BOL News, stated that the country is experiencing what the people of erstwhile FATA under the Frontier Corps Regulation (FCR) have been bearing since the creation of Pakistan.
“If we ask the people of Balochistan, FATA and Gilgit-Balitistan, they will tell us that the FCR law inculcated by the white man in the 19th Century was extended in 1947 and dragged all the way to 2018. They bore for 70 years what we here in Lahore are bearing today,” he said.
Dr. Ammar Ali Jan, founder Haqooq-e-Khalq Party (HKP), said that Pakistan has turned into a republic of fear: dissent is being threatened into silence, however progressives will continue to fight oppression.
“We disagree with 90% of what Imran Riaz says. But there should be a method to our disagreement, there should be rules to the game,” he posited. “But if one team is allowed to bring in guns and disappear people of the other team, then this is no fair contest.”
Former senator and veteran politician of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Farhatullah Babar reiterated the forum’s stance that no one endorses what had happened on May 9 but neither does it endorse military trials of civilians.
“All of Pakistan, including the party whose workers were involved [in May 9] condemned the events. But the important point that lawyers and political parties must think about is… what should be the response?”
he posed the question. “Are trials under the Army Act the response? Or should the response be that the incidents be investigated and action taken with due process?”
However, irrespective of the state’s view on this matter, the May 9 events do not warrant military court trials under section 2(i)(d) of the Army Act 1952.
Babar also held that no political party should be banned through executive order or judicial process, and that free and fair elections must not be postponed under any circumstances.
Former Vice-Person of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Abid Saqi reminded the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf that the forum’s first and foremost commitment has always been to preserve democracy and constitutional rights in Pakistan.
“It was during [the PTI’s] rule that civil society was oppressed, the media was gagged and a draconian law to regulate social media was nearly introduced,” he recalled. “We had warned them that they were digging their graves, and instead we were demonized. Now we ask: did you learn anything from this?”
Supreme Court lawyer Ali Ahmed Kurd said that Pakistan has been under a military regime for the past 75 years.
“For 75 years, the country has been in the grips of the Army… now, we are also in the grips of the Army Act,”