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Pakistan Reader
Lawyers’ protests in Lahore: Two Reasons Why

  Dhriti Mukherjee

On 9 May, lawyers staged protests against Punjab “police brutality” against lawyers who were earlier peacefully protesting the “unlawful divisions” of the civil courts in Lahore. A day earlier on 8 May, the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) issued a nationwide strike call for the Supreme Court, high courts, and subordinate judiciary, declaring 9 May as a black day in solidary with the lawyers who had been subject to the use of teargas, baton charge, and water cannons by the police. These lawyers were trying to enter the Lahore High Court (LHC) to lodge a complaint against the decision to shift civil courts from Aiwan-i-Adl on Lower Mall to Model Town. Although not a major reason, the lawyers also protested against the terrorism cases against PTI lawyers. These lawyers had links to the PTI and were thus arrested during the crackdown on the party, with some being sent to jail on judicial remand.

CBA President Shahzad Shaukat, part of a delegation of the SCBA, urged the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Qazi Faez Isa, to take cognisance of the matter by taking suo motu notice for the amicable resolution of the issue; later, he said that Isa believes the SC should not interfere in the high courts’ matters.

Following the protests, Maryam Nawaz took to X to say that she had instructed Inspector General Dr Usman Anwar to “refrain from using force against the lawyers.” However, she called on lawyers to resolve their matters with LHC amicably. For the safety of the citizens of Lahore, confrontation should be avoided.”

As per media reports, Nawaz and Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar decided that the lawyers’ demands should be honoured and the issue should be resolved through reconciliation. Tarar was the one who convinced Nawaz to release the detained lawyers, saying that they were not terrorists. He also stressed that “sanity should prevail.” 

What were the lawyers protesting?
1. The shifting of civil courts
The protests initially began due to the decision of shifting civil courts from Aiwan-i-Adl on Lower Mall to Model Town. These protests have been ongoing since December 2023, after the then-Chief Justice, Muhammad Ameer Bhatti, issued a “unilateral” notification about the shifting of the courts. On 11 January 2024, the legal fraternity rallied against the decision, with the Lahore Bar Association members marching from Aiwan-i-Adl to the LHC, chanting slogans against Bhatti and locking courts at the judicial complex. Protestors, including the leadership and the members of the LHCBA, claimed that the decision was a “conspiracy” to divide lawyers. On 28 February, LBA activists rallied for the same cause, where LBA President Muneer Hussain Bhatti said the chief justice’s decision was taken to divide the legal community. Another lawyer claimed that the decision to shift courts had not been discussed in the administration committee, adding that senior judges confirmed that the outgoing chief justice had not consulted with them. As the case filing branches at district courts remained closed for two months due to the lawyers’ protests, litigants faced problems.

Following this, in March as a sign of a “goodwill gesture” to the new head of the Punjab judiciary, Chief Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan, the PBC temporarily called off the protest. However, they received a “cold shoulder” from him; resultantly, a joint action committee (JAC) was formed including leaders from various bar associations and councils. On 8 May, the lawyers staged a protest with the intention of entering the LHC to lodge a complaint against the decision. However, police clad in anti-riot gear used teargas, water cannons, and baton charge to disperse them, prompting violent clashes in which several lawyers were taken into custody. Dozens of protests also suffered “minor injuries,” with police claiming that they were pelted with stones. Though PBC member Ahsan Bhoon told the police that lawyers would remain peaceful if allowed to enter the LHC, which had been shut with an “iron fence,” the police did not listen. 

2. Complaints of police brutality. 
Following the way in which police handled the lawyers, the PBC called for a strike against police torture. The PBC, LHCBA and LBA held a conference following the police brutality; subsequently, PBC Vice Chairman Kamran Bashir Mughal and Chairman of the PBC executive committee Pir Imran Akram Bodla, announced a strike by all lawyers and bar associations in the province on 9 May against the LHC chief justice and police’s “thuggery.” They called on the Punjab police chief, and the province’s Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz, to “come to their senses” and release detained lawyers. Further, they demanded that Punjab’s police chief, Lahore’s top police officer and deputy inspector general of police be changed. Separately, the SBC shared the same sentiment and instructed advocates to not attend proceedings in light of the “excessive and unwarranted use of police force.” It called on the provincial and federal governments to address the Lahore police’s involvement in the “shameful and inhumane” treatment of lawyers. Additionally, LHCBA President Asad Butt lamented the police’s use of “cruelty” against a “peaceful march.” 

Lawyers boycotted court proceedings in multiple cities, including Peshawar, Lahore, and Islamabad, causing forced adjournments of pending cases. In Lahore, cases were adjourned due to the unavailability of the counsel. While cases in the SC were unaffected, there was a partial strike in the Islamabad High Court. A joint session of the bar associations announced that the strikes would also be held on 10 May, and also made the decision to file reference against Khan on the grounds of abuse of power and unconstitutional acts. In light of his actions, the bar associations argued that Khan was no longer eligible to hold office and should resign. 

References
Malik Asad, “Lawyers observe partial strike,” Dawn¸10 May 2024;
Lawyers observe strike against police torture,” Dawn, 10 May 2024;
Lawyers boycott courts to protest against Lahore clashes,” The Express Tribune, 10 May 2024;
Nasir Iqbal, “Lawyers go on nationwide strike against police today,” Dawn, 9 May 2024;
Wajih Ahmad Sheikh, “Dozens hurt as police break up lawyers’ protest,” Dawn, 9 May 2024;
Rana Bilal, Abdullah Momand & Imtiaz Ali, “Sindh, Punjab bar councils announce lawyers’ strikes on May 9 after Lahore police clashes,” Dawn, 8 May 2024;
Lawyers protest shifting of civil courts,” Dawn, 29 February 2024;
Lawyers stage protest rally,” Dawn¸12 January 2024

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