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Date of next march soon after SC ruling on our petition: Imran

PESHAWAR: PTI Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday that the party had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking its protection, and he would announce the date for the next march to Islamabad as soon as the apex court rules on the matter.

Addressing a social media conference in Peshawar, Imran said he wanted the Supreme Court to grant protection to the PTI’s march and answer whether Pakistanis have the fundamental right to hold a peaceful protest.

According to a Dawn and other news outlets’ reports, he highlighted the way the federal and Punjab governments had responded to the PTI’s recent Azadi March on May 25 by “firing [tear gas] shells and wrongfully using Punjab police” and said this was why the party wanted a ruling from the SC. “As soon as their decision comes, I will announce [the date for the next march] and we will leave [for the capital].”

The PTI chairman said the party’s planning would be better this time. “After [the previous] Supreme Court ruling, we believed the path would be clear and no one would be picked up. We will not repeat the mistakes.”

PTI’s Azadi March on May 25 was preceded by the authorities invoking Section 144 — a measure used to curb gatherings. Shipping containers were put in place on major thoroughfares to block their path.

PESHAWAR:  PTI Chairman Imran Khan addresses a social media conference in Peshawar on Wednesday.

Undeterred by the moves, the marchers tried to force through the containers to make their way to Islamabad amid intense shelling and baton-charge by the police. PTI supporters were also arrested in cities across Punjab.

The PTI’s march towards Islamabad’s D-Chowk and the shelling of teargas by police took place despite the Supreme Court directives for the former to hold its protest in Islamabad’s H-9 area and orders for the government to not make arrests or use force in connection with the march.

However, Imran had chosen to turn back from the 9th Avenue after giving a six-day deadline to the government for announcing elections and dissolving assemblies and warned that he would return to the capital with the “entire nation” otherwise.

PESHAWAR: PTI Chairman Imran Khan talks social media conference in Peshawar on Wednesday.

In his speech today, Imran exhorted party workers to continue their struggle against “criminals”, telling them that what they were doing was “jihad, and not politics”.

“The violent, barbaric way in which shelling was done … law enforcement agencies do not do this violence on their own people. Only criminals do this.”

Pakistan’s biggest problem was injustice, he said, adding that citizens would have to get their right through jihad. “This is the most important time for the nation. If we defeat them (the incumbent government), Pakistan will progress. And if we do not, then your children will have to fight this war.”

The PML-N-led coalition government was “threatening people and scaring them”, he alleged and claimed that according to evidence collected by the PTI, the shells fired at party supporters were “the ones used only against terrorists”.

PESHAWAR: PTI chairman Imran Khan giving an interview to Moeed Pirzada of 92 News Programme ‘Hard Talk Pakistan’ on Monday.

The PTI chief called on his supporters to defeat the fear, saying, “I do not fear anything because I believe we are fighting this war for our [future] generations.”

He claimed that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah were “criminals” and “the most cowardly people”.

PTI’s petition

Earlier in the day, Barrister Ali Zafar filed a petition in the apex court on behalf of PTI secretary general Asad Umar. The petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, posed a number of questions to the SC, asking whether freedom of movement and right to peaceful protest and procession is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution.

It also asks whether rights granted under Articles 4 (right to be dealt with in accordance with law), 5 (loyalty to state and obedience to the Constitution and the law), 8 (laws inconsistent with or in derogation of fundamental rights to be void), 9 (security of person), 10 (safeguards as to arrest and detention), 14 (inviolability of dignity of man), 15 (freedom of movement), 16 (freedom of assembly), 17 (freedom of association), 19 (freedom of speech) and 25 (equality of citizens) can be “unreasonably curtailed by executive authorities through use of disproportionate and unlawful force on peaceful citizenry”.

Another question it asks is whether the state and governmental agencies can unlawfully deprive citizens of their liberty, guaranteed under Articles 9 and 10, by arresting individuals who are participating in, or intend to participate in a peaceful protest for attaining their democratic rights.

It further asks whether the PTI has the “fundamental right to organise, associate and conduct a nationwide political rally, in accordance with Article 17 of the Constitution, without unlawful interference by the federal and provincial government authorities”.

The petition requests the court to direct the federal and Punjab governments to “not torture or arrest or use any force or coercive measures or intimidating tactics (including, without limitation, conducting of illegal raids in their houses)” against people who want to attend a rally organised by PTI.

It also requested the court to stop the authorities from putting obstacles or blocking access to places or restricting people’s movement.

Questions raised by PTI

  • Whether freedom of movement and the right to peaceful protest and procession are fundamental rights of all citizens of Pakistan under the Constitution?
  • Whether constitutional rights, enshrined in Articles 4, 5, 8, 9, 10,14, 15, 16, 17, 19, and 25 of the Constitution, can be unreasonably curtailed by executive authorities through the use of disproportionate and unlawful force on peaceful citizenry?
  • Whether the fundamental rights, enshrined in Articles 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19 and 25 of the Constitution must be respected and protected from unconstitutional and illegal curtailment by the governmental authorities?
  • Whether the state and governmental agencies of Pakistan can unlawfully deprive citizens of their liberty, guaranteed under Article 9 and 10 of the Constitution, by arresting individuals who are participating in or intend to participate in a peaceful protest for the attainment of their democratic rights?
  • Whether the governmental agencies can, without any cause or reason, browbeat, intimidate, or physically harm individuals and groups who gather for a peaceful procession, thus violating their inviolable dignity and privacy of home, as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution?
  • Whether the citizens of Pakistan have the right to peacefully enter, move around and remain in various territories of Pakistan, in accordance with Article 15 of the Constitution?
  • Whether the citizens have the right to peacefully assemble, protest and hold demonstrations, for the achievement of their democratic demands, in accordance with the letter and spirit of Article 16 of the Constitution?
  • Whether the PTI, a duly registered political party, has the fundamental right to organise, associate and conduct a nationwide political rally, in accordance with Article 17 of the Constitution, without unlawful interference by the federal and provincial government authorities?
  • Whether the arrest and detention of members of the PTI prior to or during a peacefully organised protest, amount to illegal detention and arrest, as well as a violation of the its rights under Article 17 of the Constitution?

The federal government, all four provincial governments and the inspector generals of police of the four provinces have been nominated as respondents in the petition.

Interview to Dr. Moeed Pirzada

Imran Khan on Monday, while explaining why he ended the Azadi March last week, said he feared that “bloodshed” was imminent as some of his party workers were also armed and could have retaliated in the face of the authorities’ hours-long shelling and heavy-handed tactics.

After an intense build-up the previous day and repeatedly urging his supporters to reach D-Chowk in Islamabad in order to push the government towards new elections, Imran had on last Thursday sprang a surprise by retreating and calling off the march.

In an interview with TV journalist Moeed Pirzada for 92 News, the PTI chairman revealed his reasoning for doing so, saying that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif-led government would have been the ultimate beneficiary of any ensuing chaos and violence.

“The hatred against police had already intensified and seeing me [at D-Chowk] would have further stoked the sentiments of my workers,” he said. “I was a 100 per cent sure that bullets will be fired. People from our side were also ready as some of them were carrying pistols. It would have led to further hatred against the police and the army and caused divisions within the country …,” he told the interviewer.

“I was hundred per cent sure the country would have headed towards anarchy in this situation,” he added.

The PTI chairman said the situation gave him the impression as if Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and PM Shehbaz Sharif had asked the Pakistan Army to let them handle the situation “so the government could teach a lesson to the protesters”.

Imran said his party would approach the Supreme Court on Tuesday and ask whether or not holding a “peaceful protest” was permissible in the country. “If the Supreme Court does not protect our fundamental rights this time, then it is not democracy.” The former PM went on to say that “this will be the trial of the Supreme Court now”.

Imran Khan has said many supporters participating in a long march he led to the capital last week were carrying “pistols” and he had called off the protest fearing unrest and bloodshed.

“Even on our side, people were ready, many people I saw were carrying pistols, so I was afraid that the next step would be that there would be unrest.”