December 06 , 2017
Model Town report released on LHC orders
LAHORE: Dismissing the Punjab government’s appeal, the Lahore High Court on Tuesday ruled it had failed to establish that publication of Justice Najfi’s inquiry report into the Model Town killings would harm public order or administration of justice.
Soon after the order, the provincial government released the report through the Directorate General of Public Relations’ website. A full bench led by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh directed the Punjab government to publicise the inquiry report within 30 days and provide copy of the same to victims’ families.
In its 101-page judgment, the court ruled that the publication of Justice Baqir Najfi’s inquiry report would not harm the public order or administration of justice as it was a matter of public importance and every citizen had the constitutional right under Article 19-A to have access to the document.
Justice Qazi Muhammad Ahmed Amin and Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi were the other members of bench, which had reserved its verdict on November 24. The court, however, made it clear that the release of report would not prejudice the ongoing trial against the accused in an anti-terrorism court.
“To ensure fair trial and administration of justice, the disclosure of this inquiry report of Tribunal shall not impact upon the fate/outcome of the trial in progress in contravention of law applicable thereto,” the judgment read.
Additional Advocate General Shah Gull, other law officers, victims’ lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar, Azhar Siddique and PAT’s counsel Ishtiaq Chaudhary were present in the court. A huge number of PAT workers had also gathered in the courtroom to hear the judgment. The Punjab government had filed an intra court appeal, challenging the decision of a single bench comprising Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi who on September 24 ordered to make the report public immediately and hand it over to the victims.
The judgment said, “The government now cannot say that the report is only for eyes of government and not for public.” It said, “When the inquiry was conducted to find out real facts and causes of the incident in public interest due to loss of lives and unrest in the general public, then we are at loss to understand that how public interest be served and unrest in the general public satisfied unless the inquiry report with real facts be made available to general public”.
It also said, “It is obvious that apprehension of the appellants is misplaced and with disclosure of report, there is fear of harm or likely harm to administration of justice, including fair trial. The right to know under Article 19 and 19-A of the Constitution, through not absolute, is a factor which should make one way, when secrecy is claimed for a report which was no repercussion on public security.”
“The people of Pakistan have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in public way,” the verdict read. “Freedom of information is the only vehicle of political discourse so essential to democracy and it is equally important in facilitating artistic and scholarly endeavours of all sorts.”
The full bench said, “We were presented the report of the Tribunal for our perusal in Chamber. In the said report, it was nowhere stated or apprehended by the Tribunal that this report should not be disclosed or its disclosure will cause or likely to cause harm to public order.”
“There is no reason to apprehend that disclosing of real facts regarding the incident, will cause or likely to cause harm to public order. The harm or likely harm to public order must be proved. It is not permissible to restrain right to information or freedom of expression merely on the basis of speculative possibility of harm or prejudice to public order but the information must be of such as would create real and substantial risk of prejudice and harm to public order,” the judgment added.
The full bench, in its judgment, also expressed annoyance over the use of inappropriate language against the single-member bench but showed judicial restraint from initiating contempt proceedings against the government pleader. “We have noted with concern that some of the language used in memorandum of this appeal regarding the learned single judge is not appropriate.”
“The border line between fair criticism of judgment and contempt may be thin and must be kept in mind. However, in view of explanation tendered by learned counsel for the appellant (government), while exercising judicial restraint, we are not further proceeding in the matter, however, deprecate the above language and expect the appellant to be more careful in future in choice of words in pleadings.”
Meanwhile, Justice Najfi in his report, without categorically fixing responsibility on any individual or institution has implied that the government actions, motivated by political prejudice, led to the events that caused 14 deaths in the 2014 Model Town.
“The Police and all other concerned, without any exception, abetted being desperado, performed daredevil acts, which resulted into irreparable loss,” mentions the report on page 73. However, the report concludes, “Keeping in view the above facts and circumstances, the reader of this report can easily fix the responsibility of the unfortunate Minhaj-ul-Quran incident.”
The report, which was made public by the Punjab Government on Tuesday on the orders of the Lahore High Court, rejected the chief minister’s stance that he had ordered disengagement after the matter was brought to his knowledge. It is pertinent to mention that the reports of the incident submitted to the tribunal by the Inter Services Agency (ISI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) contradict each other.
“The ISI has not confirmed the report that security guard stationed at the post established at the rooftop of the house (of Tahir-ul-Qadri) also fired a single shot due to which police retreated. The ISI categorically mentioned in its report that during the assault the police also resorted to aimed fire which resulted into 10 deaths and over 70 injured out of which 51 persons sustained bullet injuries.”
On the other hand, the IB reports mention that “A guard, manning the post on first floor of the terrace of Tahir-ul-Qadri’s house opened straight fire which left two policemen injured, the news spread among the police circle that they had been killed by PAT workers. On this the police contingents advanced and the sympathisers of PAT/TMQ started pelting stones at police.”
Justice Baqir, however, in his report mentions that “CDs provided by private TV channels do not show any firing from Minhaj-ul-Quran workers’ side and no PAT worker was seen wielded with firearms weapons. The PAT workers were only throwing bricks and patrol-bombs.”
“While putting all the facts and the circumstances in juxtaposition, it has become crystal clear that order of disengagement was not passed at all, rather position taken by CM Punjab appears to be an afterthought defence not taken before the nation in the press conference”, wrote Justice Najfi.
The chief minister, in his statement to the tribunal, had said that he had given orders to disengage the police through his Secretary Dr Tauqir Shah.
“This tribunal has very carefully seen the CD of the first press conference of Chief Minister, Punjab, dated; 17-6-2014 after the incident in which he did not specifically mention about his direction of "disengagement", despite taking a notice of it in the morning. The record does not reveal its activation, effective communication, implementation, execution or follow up showing that the order, if any, may have been passed listlessly,” the report states.
Also, the cell-phone data of every government official (police and civilian) involved in the operation with the exception of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was provided to the ISI. The report blames the law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, for his strong point of view not to allowing Qadri to take any opportunity to full fill his objective.
The operation planned and designed under the chairmanship of the then law minister resulted into gruesome killings could have easily been avoided. The report mentions that Tauqir also consented on the behalf of the chief minister for removing the barriers. Also in his affidavit, he mentioned that the chief minister’s directive for disengagement, yet strangely enough “Rana Sanaullah did not utter a single word about "disengagement". Likewise, the Home Secretary, Punjab did not mention in his report about the word "disengagement”.
“In criminology, it is a golden principle for assessment of evidence that man can tell a lie but circumstances don’t. The facts and circumstances of the bloodbath clearly show that the police-officers actively participated in the massacre”, states Justice Najfi in the report.
Rejecting the government’s stance that the events were circumstantial and consequential, the report stated that the police actions of firing and severely beating the people on the crime scene are irrefutably suggestive that the police did exactly for which they were sent and gathered over there.
“The collected reports from all concerned and the affidavits submitted by the police officers in the field do not depict that any order of "disengagement" by the Chief Minister Punjab was ever conveyed/received. It is shocking to note that everyone has deliberately but unsuccessfully tried to over each other from possible adverse legal effects,” it read.
Justice Najfi also accused the police of concealment of facts and said, “This led the tribunal to say that this motif of betrayal of law by the police aimed to bury the truth speaks volumes of their high handedness.”
The tribunal report also expressed that the government did not empower the tribunal under Section 11 of Punjab Tribunals Ordinance, 1959 regarding investigation of any matter coming before it is also a bad one. The tribunal considered it as the circumstances to circumvent the process of digging out the truth.
“The entire gamut of facts and circumstances speak volumes that there was no good intention of the Government to arrive at a definite and truthful result,” the report mentioned. Justice Najfi also did not buy the government’s reasoning for changing the IGP one day before the incident and said that “such facts and circumstances obviously lead to an adverse opinion”.
Proposing his suggestions on how to avoid such tragedies, Justice Najfi stated in his report, “The orders passed by the courts such like the one under discussion, it is advised as well as warned must be complied with in its letter and spirit to avoid such like incidents.”
“In future, to avoid such like situation it is imperative that legislative reforms be brought in to empower the magistrate to pass the order for releasing fire by the police so that the responsibility can be fixed after ascertaining facts and circumstances,” the report read.