ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday disposed of a plea seeking orders to stop PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s long march, observing that the apex court’s interference on the matter would be “premature”.
The SC told the petitioner a fresh plea could be filed if the law and order situation worsens in light of the long march.
“Prima facie, the court’s interference on the issue would be premature […] court will exercise judicial restraint in such political matters,” Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial remarked while terming the plea infructuous.
The petition filed last week by JUI-F Senator Kamran Murtaza court had moved the top court to pass restraining orders to halt the long march, which is moving towards the federal capital with every passing day. The government has warned the party against engaging in violence once it enters Islamabad — which is expected by this week — with the party’s assurance that it will not indulge in violence.
The CJP presided over the three-member bench, comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Ayesha Malik, that heard the plea.
At the outset of the hearing, Murtaza said it’s been two weeks since Khan’s long march kicked off, and according to PTI Senior Vice President, it will reach Islamabad by this Friday.
“Everyday life of people has been disrupted due to the long march. PTI reserves its right to hold a long march, but in no way is it allowed to disturb a commoner’s life.”
At this, Justice Ayesha asked the lawyer whether the government had introduced a mechanism to regulate the protests. Justice Minallah also asked Murtaza whether he thought that the administration had become so weak that it could not handle the long march.
“This is a matter related to the executive [government], you should approach them,” Justice Minallah told Murtaza, as he noted that in unusual circumstances, the court could intervene.
“When the administration has the authority to control the long march, why should the courts intervene?” he wondered.
In response, Murtaza said things have gotten out of hand now as, during the long march, a person lost their life in Wazirabad — and Khan was also injured.
Then, Justice Ayesha asked the petitioner since the long march has been continuing now for so many days, did he approach the district administration.
In his remarks, CJP Bandial told Murtaza that he had cited the violations of the previous long march and asked the court to intervene in the matter. “But the long march is a political issue, there is a political solution to it as well.”
He told the petitioner that when the judiciary gets involved in political matters, it creates a “difficult situation” for the court.
“You have also cited an audio leak in your petition. In the audio, there is a conversation about bringing weapons [to Islamabad]. Whether or not this audio is real, there is a chance that the law and order situation might get affected,” the CJP said.
He then asked whether the PTI brought weapons to Islamabad during its march on May 25 as he noted that there are certain limits that political parties should adhere to during protests.
CJP Bandial said that since the court was informed that the march was still in Punjab, then did the petitioner approached the province’s government. And if that isn’t the case, can the court intervene if the communication ties between the Centre and provinces are cut off?
Justice Minallah then told Murtaza that he was a senator and he should work to strengthen the parliament. At this, the JUI-F leader said that he was present in the court in a personal capacity.
“How can we believe that you’re here in a personal capacity when you’re also part of the government?” Justice Minallah asked. Murtaza said it seems that the administration cannot control the situation, which is why he opted to move the court.
At this, the CJP said prima facie, the court’s interference in the issue would be “premature”.
Then, Justice Minallah grilled Murtaza and asked him whether he wanted the court to play the role of a deputy commissioner.
Justice Ayesha then informed Murtaza that a contempt case against Khan was already pending before the SC’s larger bench.
“The parties — in the contempt case — have assured [us] of being answerable if there are any violations. So, do you still want this bench to intervene when a larger bench is already hearing a case?”
Justice Minallah also noted that a similar case was already being heard in the Islamabad High Court (IHC).
‘Are you afraid?’
The chief justice remarked that the PTI had requested permission to hold the May 25 rally in H9 Ground.
“The Supreme Court interfered when the administration refused to provide the H9 ground,” he said.
CJP Bandial said that the crowd moved to the D-Chowk despite the reservation of H9 ground. “Are you afraid that the May 25-like incident could occur again?” he asked.
At this, the additional attorney general informed the court that the administration asked the PTI to hold a rally in Rawat. He said that the administration sought PTI’s response in an affidavit, which hasn’t been filled as yet.
The official said that a similar case is under trial in IHC as well.
“The court will interfere if there is a clear risk of a constitutional violation,” CJP remarked.
Meanwhile, JUI-F Senator Murtaza said that the plea contains a reference to the constitutional violations from the past.
At this, the CJP remarked that the other party may have their stance on the violations.
“The matter becomes complicated for the court after violation of an apex court’s order. The judicial orders are for compliance,” he said.
In his petition, JUI-F Senator Murtaza claimed that the PTI chairman seems to be on a collision course with the institutions of Pakistan as the party is once again carrying out its “long march” to Islamabad.
Senator Murtaza made federal and provincial governments, Khan, and his party respondents.
The petition prayed to the top court to ensure the basic rights of people were not violated during the long march.
The petition urged the court to order provinces and the federation to ensure that Islamabad’s population was off-limits for the PTI’s protest/sit-in.
It also appealed to the court to direct the Islamabad Capital Territory and provincial authorities not to allow long marchers to continue their protest for an indefinite period.
The PTI should also be ordered to comply with the rules and parameters that govern the code of conduct for holding protest rallies, the petition urged the court.