Dozens of women supporters and leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) remain in prison despite the passage of four months since their arrests in connection with the May 9 riots, with lawyers and activists alike questioning the manipulation of law that prevents their release on bail, pending trial.
According to the PTI, around 10,000 of its workers and supporters were detained across Pakistan under the crackdown initiated after the events of May 9, which saw rioters ransack and torch various civil and military assets, including the Lahore Corps Commander’s House. Data submitted to courts suggests that at least 90 of the suspects were women, with PTI secretary legal affairs Rana Mudassar alleging 15-18 of them are still under detention at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail.
Among the prominent suspects detained at Kot Lakhpat are PTI Punjab President Dr. Yasmin Rashid; former MNA Aaliya Hamza; fashion designer Khadija Shah; and Sanam Javed and Tayyaba Ambreen. Since their respective arrests, police have been granted physical remand thrice, with a clear pattern emerging from authorities seeking to retain their custody: prosecutors secure remand for investigation; upon its completion, cases are buffed up with new offenses, requiring further investigations; further remand is sought and granted before bail can be secured. “It has been a standard procedure by the prosecution that whenever we move the high court for bail, the prosecution appears with new offenses, forcing the court to revert the cases back to the Anti-Terrorism Court,” lamented Muddassar, who is also representing Rashid. This week, the same pattern played out as, upon completion of their third remand, police sought additional remand of the suspects after adding new offenses to the cases against them.
Alleging the physical remand of the suspects was in blatant violation of law, Muddassar argued there was no strong and exceptional ground that required rejection of their bails. Noting 70-80 detained women had been granted bail already, he maintained to the Standard that none of them—including the women still behind bars—were directly nominated in any case. “They were implicated in different cases after their arrest due to their affiliation with the PTI or on the so-called basis of geo-fencing,” he alleged.
Mudassar told the Standard that Rashid was initially detained under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) before being implicated in seven cases related to the May 9 unrest. “Dr. Rashid’s bail was rejected ridiculously once without hearing the defense while other bails were rejected on failure of appearance in court despite both myself and Dr. Rashid being present,” he claimed, alleging courts appeared reluctant to hear the cases under pressure from the state.
“My client, Dr. Rashid, is a cancer survivor and she needs to undergo regular follow-ups to prevent it from recurrence. However, despite repeated requests, she is not being allowed to see her doctors,” he alleged, adding her family had said she was crying due to a backache and needs to be hospitalized.
Similar to Rashid, former MNA Hamza was detained in the crackdown initiated after the May 9 riots. She was subsequently implicated in the arson at the Lahore Corps Commander’s House, though her lawyer maintains she did not participate in the unrest. “The courts are clearly reluctant to hear her cases due to petty technicalities being put up by the prosecution,” said her lawyer, Farooq Bajwa, alleging prosecutors were focused on delaying the hearing of her cases.
The lawyer also lamented the behavior of lawyers employed by the PTI, noting that despite not being nominated by his client to argue her case, they kept trying to interfere, with their actions proving counterproductive in securing her release. However, he told the Standard, his client had no complaints about her treatment in prison and hoped justice would soon prevail. “The state and affairs of the state can’t be run if justice is suspended,” he said, alleging it appeared some judges favored the prosecution.
Apart from the PTI leaders, some party supporters have also borne the full brunt of the state, with Sanam Javed and Tayyaba Raja among the most prominent names facing legal action. Their lawyer, Shakeel, questioned the reasons behind police being repeatedly granted their physical remand.
“They have been handed over to police on physical remand three times in sheer violation of laws, which prohibit further physical remand of prisoners once they are placed on judicial remand,” he said, hoping the law would eventually take course. “If we don’t trust the judiciary, then there’s no other door to knock,” he lamented, regretting prosecutors were arguing the case on technicalities rather than merits.
Another PTI supporter whose case has made headlines is fashion designer Khadija Shah, a dual citizen of Pakistan and the U.S. Her lawyer, Sameer Khosa, alleged it appeared the state had decided she would not receive any relief, as she remained under detention without charge four months since her arrest. “She was not even allowed to see her lawyer for 10 days after her detention,” he said, recalling she was initially implicated in the attack on the Corps Commander’s House. After 37 days, ahead of her bail hearing, the prosecution also implicated her in the torching of Askari Tower, he added.
Among the tactics used to delay her release, claimed Khosa, was postponing her identification parade for a week. “There is no bench available to hear PTI women’s cases consistently,” he alleged, maintaining their continued detention was unlawful and the state would be held accountable for it eventually. He also claimed that prosecutors “suddenly disappear” if a suspect agrees to record statements distancing themselves from the PTI. “The fate of these women is clear, they are innocent and should be free, depending on whether they get a fair trial or not,” he claimed.
Speaking with Standard, Khosa alleged Shah was detained in a dormitory with 60-65 convicted prisoners, including murderers and drug dealers. He claimed the prison had several hours of loadshedding daily, and was subjected to searches in the middle of the night. He also rubbished a recent report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stating the prisoners’ living conditions were satisfactory, demanding an “independent and transparent inquiry” to ascertain the reality of the situation.
Shah’s father and former finance minister Salman Shah told the Standard this was a very painful time for the family. “Our state institutions should understand that a dwindling economy, high inflation and worst energy crises are more pressing issues than keeping women in jails for offenses they haven’t committed,” he said. “Despite state repression, I have trust in my judiciary that Khadija will get justice, which is her statuary right,” he added.
The claims of innocence by all the detained women have found few takers within the state, which maintains it has “evidence” proving their complicity in the May 9 riots. Statements from both civilian and military leaderships have stressed they would not be granted any leniency. This, say their lawyers, cannot continue. PTI’s Mudassar claimed to the Standard that if the cases were heard on merit, none of the detainees would remain imprisoned for longer than an hour. “Ironically, both law and the Constitution are being rewritten to keep these PTI women in jail,” he alleged. “The state organs have failed to play their roles and the judiciary is no exception,” he added.