Lawless Lawyers of Lahore
The attack on the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1997 is probably one of the most shameful incidents in this country’s judicial history. Sadly, the memories of that incident were revived recently with an attack on the Lahore High Court (LHC). Unlike 1997, the attackers this time were not a group of college and university students, but instead were professional lawyers, led by Mr. Sajid Bashir the elected President of the Lahore Bar Association (LBA), an association that has a membership of around 17,000 individuals.
While the incident itself is shameless, the motivation behind it is downright ridiculous. The whole exercise was carried out to ensure the transfer of Judge Zawar Ahmed Shaikh. This wasn’t the first time that the LBA had taken matters into its own hands on this issue, back in July they had attacked the Session courts and had evicted Mr. Shaikh along with other Judges. Shockingly, as a response to that attack, the Chief Justice (CJ) of the LHC, Justice Khwaja Muhammad Sharif, supposedly promised the riled up leadership of LBA that Mr. Shaikh would be transferred. It was perhaps that leniency in July that emboldened the LBA to target the CJ this time.
But, thanks to the resolve of the few Policemen who were responsible for Justice Khwaja’s safety, the mob wasn’t able to reach his courtroom. If they had, there is a chance that we might have seen a treatment much worse than the hair pulling of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. However, the mob of lawyers did manage to physically assault the registrar of the LHC. Subsequently, on the complaint of the judges of LHC, the Police rounded up the top leadership of the LBA.
In anticipation of a backlash, the authorities imposed section 144 on the very next day. As feared, the lawyers did defy the ban and tried to carry out a procession. According to reports, the Police initially cordoned off the building of Aiwan i Adal and tried to keep the lawyers inside. But as a response to the hurling of stones and bottles from the inside, the Police had to move in.
Surprisingly, this action of the police that left a dozen or so lawyers injured became the main focus of this issue, overshadowing the earlier attack on the LHC. The judges of Lahore High Court, in a sudden turnaround, called for an immediate release of all the suspects. While the Supreme Court also took notice of the incident and demanded an explanation from the IG of Punjab.
The consequences of this turnaround by the LHC were seen the very next day, when the lawyers, led by the freshly released Mr. Bashir, again defied Section 144, and this time directly attacked the police as well as media personnel. Video footage beamed on various channels showed unarmed policemen being beaten mercilessly by a group of lawyers using, shoes, stones and police helmets.
With these appalling visuals, came the equally appalling justifications. The most ridiculous of these is the notion that a “third force” or a fringe element of the lawyer fraternity is carrying out this violence. In this regard, it is completely unfair to quote the President of LBA’s denial as the ultimate proof of his innocence. Independent media reports clearly indicate that the leadership of LBA was involved in the initial attack on the Sessions Courts as well as the recent one on the LHC. Furthermore, the criticism of this incident from the likes of Athar Minallah and Eatzaz Ahsan has been responded with bans on them by the LBA. If Mr. Minallah and Mr. Ahsan represent the mainstream of the legal fraternity in Lahore, then how are their words completely rejected through the approval of unanimous motions by elected representatives?
In terms of setting precedents, these actions of the LBA have far reaching consequences for the future of judicial independence in Pakistan. There is a dire need to give a reality check to these new heirs of the Lawyers Movement of Pakistan. Their past struggle against a military dictatorship does not give them the right to impose their own form of dictatorship. If Mr. Bashir and Associates were punished properly after their initial attack on the Sessions Court, this recent attack on the High Court might have been averted. Similarly, if these vigilantes go unpunished again, we shouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court of Pakistan suffers the same fate in the near future.
Appeared on the 9th of October 2010, in Pakistan Today