Pakistan: Punjab govt vows strict action against lawyers, others involved in Lahore protest

Pakistan: Punjab govt vows strict action against lawyers, others involved in Lahore protest

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Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat on Wednesday announced the government’s decision to fully prosecute all those involved in the violent protest at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC).

“I assure you all, the government will see to it that no concessions are made,” said the law minister, addressing a press conference alongside Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hasan Chauhan — who was manhandled by lawyers at the protest — and Punjab Health Minister Yasmeen Rashid.

“The government cannot allow anyone to take the law into their own hands. Those who tried to, will be held accountable.”

He said that in this regard, the Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has instructed that the lawyers who were involved and others who have been identified in video footage of the protests “will all be prosecuted”.

“He has clearly stated that no one who took the law into his hands will be spared and legal action of the strictest kind will be taken against them,” added Basharat.

“There is a need to end the high-handed culture which has begun to take flight,” he said.

The minister, reiterating the government’s stance, said that while doctors and lawyers are both respected members of society, “they can never be allowed to take the law into their hands.”

He said a two-tier investigation has been launched into the incident. Part of the investigation will focus on whether the “police’s negligence in enforcing the law” had a role to play.

Basharat said that the situation had been simmering since November “and the appropriate circles were not taken into confidence or apprised of the developments”. “A separate investigation into this will take place,” he said.

The minister condemned the mistreatment of Chauhan and Rashid as they tried to defuse the situation at the protest venue.

“Their presence at the hospital was evidence of the fact that the government tried their utmost to not remain detached from the situation,” he said, adding, “Had they not been present, we could have witnessed a far worse outcome.”

The law minister asked lawyers to “show restraint”. “If they are able to show contrition for their wrongdoing, their honour will not be diminished.”

Asking doctors, too, to exercise restraint, he urged them to call off their decision to boycott hospital emergency wards. “Those who come seeking treatment are at no fault. For innocent citizens to bear the cost of someone’s high-handedness will be a great injustice.”

‘I laud the media for rescuing me’

Chauhan was next to address the press briefing. Recounting the events, he said that he and Basharat had both been instructed to go to the protest venue “and handle the situation”.

He said that he had the impression that lawyers were “a learned community” and that he would be able to sort out differences between the doctors and lawyers as an arbitrator and “cool things down”.

“My life was at stake. They tortured me and even fired shots at me and tried to kidnap me,” said the Punjab information minister, saying that the full depth of the incident was not shown on media.

“They made a proper plan, saying, ‘Pick him up’. Two people tried to lift me up from my legs.”

The minister expressed his gratitude and paid tribute to the Lahore media for “playing a very positive role”. “Some of your reporters got me out of there.”

He said the next 15 minutes were spent with the police in convincing them to refrain from shelling, firing and stone-pelting. “The chief minister had explicitly instructed that this not turn into a Model Town-like incident.”

Chauhan said the protesters were dispersed using water cannons, “without any firing, without use of shells, without any injury to anyone”, over a half-a-mile distance.

“I personally got involved in the arrest of 10 lawyers,” he added.

The minister then went on to allege that PML-N activists were partly responsible for the chaos that ensued upon his arrival. “One of them has been identified and is close to the Sharif family.”

“This was a conspiracy to create lawlessness in Punjab under the umbrella of the lawyer community.”

The minister also paid tribute to lawyers including Aitzaz Ahsan and Ali Zafar “who accepted on TV that the lawyers should have respected my role as an arbitrator and allowed for things to be settled”.

“This is the mark of a true guardian of the law,” he said, expressing hope the lawyer community would continue to keep its distance from the “black sheep” and protect its reputation.

Chauhan said that the government will compensate the heirs of the “martyred patients” and doctors who bore material losses such as vehicular

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