Unequivocally, the right to peaceful protest and assemble is basic and its existence is the cornerstone in a democratic society and the said right is enshrined under the United Nations’ conventions and also by the Constitution of Pakistan.
In UDHR and ICCPR it is mentioned under Article 19 that the Constitution of Pakistan enumerates two types of fundamental rights: absolute and qualified. The former one cannot be restricted under any circumstance. Whereas, the rights mentioned later are subject to the integrity of Pakistan, public interest, inter alia.
Article 16 of the Constitution of Pakistan enshrines the right to peacefully assemble without arms, subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law. However, in the case of Pakistan, the right to protest has always been inflicted from mob attacks, property damage and sometimes has costed precious lives as well. The practice has become common in Pakistan at large. The assault on Bahria town’s property was just another like act.
Violent protests are the norm
On Sunday, hordes belonging to the manifold areas of Sindh approached the gate of Bahria Town to protest and assemble against the land grabbing and seizing the land of indigenous Sindhi people. However, the protest, like other protests of Pakistan turned into violence and riot, the public property was set on fire and damaged.
The videos of the violence were looming on social media. But the scenario is not new in Pakistan. A month ago, a similar kind of mob was carried out by TLP’s supporters, where they stood against the public authorities of Pakistan. Even fires were fired and civilians along with constables lost their lives.
In past, on the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict in the case of Aasia bibi, similar practices were noted. To look back, the banks were burnt down when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and who does not remember the scenes that took place after Bhutto’s execution.
Thus, it is crystal clear that the practice of exploiting peaceful protest and damaging the properties has been a part of Pakistan’s history.
The common counterargument that is maintained by the protestors always is that it is done by the other party. They show themselves as the victim and shift the blame. In the recent scene, it is Bahria Town’s team who is responsible for the protests, and in TLP’s case, it was Pakistan’s authorities themselves.
— Meeran Jasmeen (@JasmeenMeeran) June 6, 2021
The blame game makes the situation egregious. Another shield that the mob exploits is the presence of a large number of people that help them to escape the punishment. Along with it, in the time of media, where information has become rapid, so has misinformation.
After every such scenario, two types of stories come out; one to gain sympathy and the other to transfer the blame. In such a situation, it becomes worst for the masses to adjudicate and they eventually fall for either of the two.
Read more: Is Social Media a hub of fake news?
Protecting the right to protest
Chapter VIII of the Pakistan Penal Code deals with the offenses against public tranquillity. Section 141 of the Penal code defines unlawful assembly which maintains that if the assembly turns into a riot it falls in the category of a common object and not the common intention.
In the cases of a common object, there is not pre-mediation of minds to commit a certain illegal act and to assemble unlawfully, however, it becomes one by an act. Ergo, the punishment of section 141 constitutes a specific substantive offense and does not raise constructive liability.
Although, in riots, it is difficult to gauge pre-mediation of minds, however, the participation of various political parties and locals due to their sentiments makes it is easy to conclude that the pre-mediation of mind was missing in the Bahria Town protests.
Despite this, the perpetrators and attackers escape the punishment with the shield of protest. To capture those perpetrators is the need of the hour to safeguard the enshrined fundamental right so that it does not turn into a crime and stumbling block for citizens.
To make use of digitalization would be a reliable method to reach out to the hordes of people causing riots. The technology of facial recognition should be used. The accounts and pages that are posting the videos early on social media should be reached out and eventually, the perpetrators shall be punished under the law.
Till the executive authorities in Pakistan do not become robust, the riots under the umbrella of peaceful protest will keep on taking place and will hamper the right to peaceful assembly eventually.
The writer is a lawyer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.