The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday declared the preventive detention of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) workers under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) illegal and ordered authorities to release them if they are not required in any other case.
In a nine-page order, Justice Safdar Saleem Shahid said the release order applied to all party workers, supporters and leaders placed under preventive detention in Lahore, Wazirabad, Jhang, Sheikhupura, Hafizabad, Sialkot, Mandi Bahauddin, Gujarat, Nankana Sahib, Gujranwala, and Narowal. He also noted that in several cases, respondents—district administration—had not submitted reports, adding that “if there were any reasonable grounds for preventive detention of the detenues therein, the same should have been brought on record in order to assist the Court to pass an appropriate order after considering all the facts and circumstances of the case.” The absence of such reports, read the ruling, “only supports the contentions of the petitioners that there was no material” against them requiring preventive detention.
Stressing that the Constitution granted every Pakistani citizen an inalienable right to enjoy the protection of law and to be treated in accordance with law, and also bars any action detrimental to his life, liberty, body, reputation or property except in accordance with law, the ruling stated that reports submitted by the respondents did not show any reasonable ground for involvement of the detainees in a manner prejudicial to public safety, peace, tranquility and maintenance of public order.
The order emphasized that any order for preventive detention must establish sound grounds that an individual was involved in activity prejudicial to public safety, including through social media posts, geo-fencing, public speeches or media appearances. However, it said, the present case did not bring any such material on record.
Describing the events of May 9 as having been perpetrated by an “unholy mob,” the ruling said the government was “confused” by the situation and dragged “ordinary citizens” into criminal litigation without due diligence. “In case there was some criminal activity the government had sufficient time to collect the material and book the individuals in criminal cases, so that one could know about the nature of allegations to properly defend and answer the charge which is the essence of due process and access to justice as enshrined in Article 10A of the Constitution,” it said. “The unpleasant and surprise events of May 9, 2023 under the shadow of unbridled mob have defaced the peaceful and democratic image of the country and it was the responsibility of the government to arrange for law and order, but not in a way as resorted on the fateful time,” it said, adding that rioters should have been suppressed under Sections 127-132 of the Code of Criminal Procedure rather than through preventive detention.
Following the riots of May 9, which continued into May 10-11, thousands of PTI workers were arrested by law enforcers across Pakistan. The PTI has maintained they were merely exercising their right to peaceful protest, while the government has argued that there can be no leniency toward “arsonists” and individuals who attack civil and military installations.