PAKISTAN: The imposition of section 144 at Islamabad is a deliberate act to deny a peaceful protest by the lawyers

The federal government has imposed section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), in Islamabad, the federal capital of Pakistan, for a period of two months. This has been done in the face of possible processions and demonstrations by the lawyers in Islamabad. The order has been imposed with immediate effect. 

According to the order, “All kinds of gatherings of five or more persons, processions, rallies and demonstrations at public places, distribution of hand bills and pamphlets, wall chalking, use of loud speakers and display of arms and ammunition within the limits of the federal Capital are prohibited”. 
This announcement from the district magistrate came amid in the preparations of a long march by the lawyers, which is scheduled to be held on March 12, 2009 at Parliament House, Islamabad, on the eve of second anniversary of the suspension of Mr. Iftekhar Choudhry, the deposed chief justice, by the former military president, Pervez Musharraf. Various bar associations across the country, including the Supreme Court Bar Association, have announced that on March 12, they will hold a long march from different parts of the country and stage a sit in outside parliament house until the restoration of the judiciary and deposed chief justice. All the political parties in opposition particularly, Pakistan Muslim League of Mr. Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister, have also joined the call for long march. The government and different ministers tried to calm the bar associations and their leadership in the hopes that they would not instigate any agitation as the government has already restored so many judges. However, their efforts fell on deaf ears.

The government is trying to intimidate the lawyers so that they do not attend either the march or the sit in, which is why they have imposed section 144. This is a typical method of colonial rule to stop the demonstration before it happens and also to justify the use of force against the demonstrators. The pretext being that, it has already been declared illegal. 

According to the definition by the Punjab Police, “Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) empowers a district government to issue orders in public interest that may place a ban on an activity for a specific period of time extending to two months. Such a ban is enforced by the police who register cases under section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code for violations of the ban. Section 188 carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison or a fine of up to Rs. 10000 or both. The ban may be lifted by the district government or re-imposed at any time after the expiry of the two-month period”.

While analyzing the section 144 CrPC, Mr. Chinmayee Prasad, National Law Institute University, Bhopal, India, has written to ‘Legal Service India .com’, that — Though the power conferred under this section is extraordinary considering the fact that it enables them to suspend the lawful rights of persons if they think such a suspension will be in the interest of public peace and safety. But the Magistrate should bear in mind that every citizen has a right to ventilate his grievances either in public or in private and ask for redress. This right cannot be curtailed so long as it is exercised in a lawful manner. It is an illegal assumption of power to issue an order under this section on a pretended apprehension of the danger of the breach of the public peace. However, section 144 is intended to provide for an emergency, and it is idle to contend that in an emergency when a riot is apprehended and when there is apprehension of a serious disturbance of the public tranquility, the Magistrate is required to deliberate upon and decide the rights of the parties before acting. 

The intention of imposing section 144 in Islamabad is to sabotage the lawyer’s gathering to protest the betrayal of promises from the government about the restoration of the judiciary at the position of November 2, 2007, and also take back the entire illegal and unconstitutional steps taken by General Musharraf during the state of emergency. It is very obvious that purpose of the imposition of section 144 is to justify resorting to bloody violence when lawyers, jurists, civil society activists and people from political parties gather in massive numbers. 

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges on the federal government to undo the orders of the district magistrate of the imposition of section 144 of CrPC and allow the citizens to have their protest in a peaceful manner. If the government resorts to turning the long march and sit in out side the parliament at Islamabad into a bloody scene then it must take full responsibility for the incident. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-027-2009
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Freedom of association,