PAT changes sit-in venue to avert ‘adverse’ court order

LAHORE: In a move to avoid any ‘adverse’ order by the Lahore High Court, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) on Tuesday changed venue of its Aug 16 sit-in from The Mall (Istanbul Chowk) to Nasser Bagh, a legally designated place for holding protests/processions.

In a statement issued after LHC proceedings on a petition against the sit-in, PAT Secretary General Khurram Nawaz Gandapur said the venue (Nasser Bagh) for the sit-in was away from the prohibited area of The Mall.

Earlier, the PAT had the plan to stage the sit-in at Istanbul Chowk. However, party sources said the venue had been changed after a LHC judge restrained the party from making arrangements for its sit-in on Mall Road and also sought a written reply to a petition filed by Mall Road Traders Association leader Naeem Mir.

During the hearing, Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh also observed that neither the government nor PAT would be allowed to violate any law.

On behalf of the traders, Advocate Asad Manzoor Butt argued that the high court had banned processions on Mall Road and the government also imposed section 144 in compliance with the order.

The counsel pointed out that Nasser Bagh and Attique Stadium had been allocated by the government for the purpose of protest activities. He said the Mall Road was a vulnerable place for public gathering as a suicide attack also took place during a sit-in of pharmacists in February last. Moreover, he said, the protests on the Mall Road would badly affect the business activities. He asked the court to stop the PAT from holding the sit-in.

On court’s call, Advocate General Punjab Shakilur Rehman also turned up and said the PAT announced its protest despite the imposition of section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C). He said the government would ensure enforcement of the ban against protests on Mall Road.

PAT’s counsel Ishtiaq Chaudhry, present in the court, sought time to file a detailed reply after seeking instructions from the leadership.

Justice Sheikh adjourned hearing for today (Wednesday) and restrained the PAT from making arrangements for its sit-in till final decision of the petition.

Party spokesman Noorullah Siddiqui claimed, “The sit-in is not a PAT show as such; it is rather an act of those, independent of the party discipline, whose near and dear ones were killed in the June 17 mayhem in 2014.”

He said they wanted to give a call attention notice to the Lahore High Court that their case had been pending for the last 30 months. For the last eight months, not a single hearing had been fixed, he added.

Mr Siddiqui further said those, whose relatives lost their lives, felt frustrated and wanted to hold a sit-in as a reminder to the court. Since the court called the party for Wednesday, it will go and explain its position and comply with the orders of the court. He said in fact, the momentum was generated and other parties – PTI, PPP, PML-Q, Sunni Ittehad and the Majlis-i-Wahadatul-Muslimin – had been successfully invited. So, the party was in no position to call it off easily. It would try to hold the sit-in, even a short one.

Dr Tahirul Qadri had announced at a press conference last week that widows and daughters of the 2014 Model Town firing victims would stage a peaceful sit-in on Mall Road to demand release of Justice Ali Baqar Najafi’s inquiry report on the incident.