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FIR against participants of Student Solidarity March raises questions about rule of law

FIR against peaceful protesters by the Punjab Police under the headship of PTI’s government has raised some serious questions about the state of democracy in Pakistan. Do students have no right to protest and to demand their lawful rights?

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Punjab police have registered a First Information Report (FIR) against the participants of the recent Student March on sedition charges. Complainant Sub-Inspector Mohammad Nawaz said he was on patrol when he received information that a rally of 250-300 people was being taken out. He said he reached Faisal Chowk on The Mall where the protesters were forcibly blocking the road to set up a stage to deliver speeches.

In the above tweet, Dr. Ammar Ali Jan is referring to the recent tweet of Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhary.

“The speakers incited the students against the state and its institutions and speeches and slogans were recorded on mobile phones so they couldn’t be checked through PPIC3 cameras,” he claimed.

Senator Sherry Rehman questioned why has an FIR been registered against the peaceful protesters who have legitimate demands?

The Civil Lines police on behalf of the state registered a case on sedition charges against the march’s organizers, including Ammar Ali Jan, Farooq Tariq, Iqbal Lala (father of Mashal Khan who was lynched over allegation of blasphemy in Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan), Alamgir Wazir, Mohammad Shabbir and Kamil Khan, besides 250-300 unidentified participants.

Analysts criticized the premier particularly for including the name of Iqbal Lala.

Journalist Amber Shamsi asked the Information Minister Punjab Mr. Aslam Iqbal about the case registered against the peaceful protesters. The minister did not answer the question rather claimed that he could not say several things in front of the camera.

Students across Pakistan protested with a demand for lifting the ban from student unions in all colleges and universities of the country on November 29. Apart from some other demands, the core demand was to give students the lawful right to constitute unions of their own at the campuses.

Young university students initiated the campaign from Lahore which, with the help of public intellectuals and civil society, spread across the country. Student’ leaders demanded the present government take immediate steps in order to show its seriousness in upgrading the polarized and class-based education system of Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan Announces to Restore Student Unions

Last night Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a tweet that universities play the main role in grooming future leaders, therefore, unions are important to be restored.

He also said that there shall be a comprehensive mechanism to restore student unions in Pakistan.

However, journalist Anwar Lodhi warned the premier not to allow these unions to work on the campuses since they may disrupt order and could be hijacked by political parties.

G-M Pitafi, who teaches Politics and International Relations at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore, says that “let’s be clear about one thing. I do not buy any arguments like we are a society where there is no rule of law and a society without objective morals; therefore, we cannot have students with tough questions, student unions, rationality or demand for genuine civil supremacy.

These are various (informal) manifestations of the doctrine of necessity, which is often used by the courts in Pakistan to legitimize what is otherwise illegitimate,” he said.

Read more: What do academics think of the Student Unions in Pakistan?

Moreover, he said that “there are arguments suggesting that these unions shall become a target of the mainstream political parties for their political interests. This is true. But what does it imply? Ban student unions? Does it sound like a great idea? In my opinion, the government (state) is responsible to keep the student unions independent of external support so that nobody can exploit them. In this regard, rules can be made after careful analysis of the current circumstances”.

He emphasized the idea that if something is procedurally incorrect or dysfunctional we need to ensure new procedures to fix it, not to eradicate the idea itself and become ‘unnecessarily protectionists’.