Does the law protect those who protect the law?

Daily Times, June 28, 2006
Does the law protect those who protect the law?

By Rana Tanveer Ali

LAHORE: When people think of courts, they usually associate them with law and order or protection. But what do you do if murders, kidnappings and dacoities become a routine occurrence at even these ‘centres’ of justice?

Even lawyers, who seek justice for others, are not safe. The situation is no different when it comes to the Ferozewala Courts, where three members of the Ferozewala Bar Association (FBA) have been murdered, and cars of a judge and a lawyer stolen over the last three years.

Senior advocate Muhammad Ali Sayal was murdered 15 feet from the courts in front of the Ferozewala ASP’s office on June 13. Ghulam Nabi Nagi, a member of the FBA, was killed in a shootout between two rival groups. Seth Abdullah, another FBA member, was murdered in his chambers.

Daily Times learnt that advocate Shehbaz Waraich, also a member of the FBA, was kidnapped from the Sheikhupura District Courts last year.

A special judicial magistrate, one judicial magistrate, six civil judges and four additional judges deal with 140 to 150 murder cases a day at the Ferozewala Courts. A court official told Daily Times that the court tried an ‘infinite’ number of robbery and property cases.

Sources said prison vans that took prisoners to courts returned with drugs, which were sold in jails with the prison staff’s help. “Relatives of prisoners that offer bribes can visit their relatives as often as they want to, and such prisoners can attend courts earlier than others,” said a prisoner’s relative.

FBA members told Daily Times senior lawyer Muhammad Ali Sayal’s murder was an act of terrorism. They said that weapons should be prohibited on courts’ premises, and a screening system should be implemented at main entrances to stop armed people from entering courts. Some lawyers demanded a police post on the Ferzoewala Courts premises for security.

Advocate Seth Abdullah’s murderer had still not been caught, they said, adding that intimidation and threats by their clients’ rivals was routine. Lawyers said the government was not paying attention to their complaints on the improvement of Ferozewala Courts.

Ferozewala Courts dealt with cases from Sheikhupura, but they fell in Lahore’s jurisdiction, they said, adding that they had recommended the courts deal with cases from Lahore’s jurisdiction, but nothing had been done.

They said that police arrested nobody even 2 weeks after Sayal’s murder because the accused men had the support of some politically influential people. They demanded Sayal’s murderers be brought to justice, otherwise the legal fraternity would boycott courts in Punjab.

Some lawyers said they were considering shifting their chambers from Ferozewala to some other area. “My parents advised me not to go to Ferozewala Courts after Sayal’s murder,” said an internee.

FBA President Chaudhary Rehmat Ali Dhillon said that Sayal was one of the founders of the FBA and he had been helping people get justice for the last 45 years. He said that there was an Elite Force van in front of the Ferozewala ASP’s office when Sayal was murdered, but the accused fled. This was glaring proof of law-enforcement agencies’ ‘apathy’, he said, adding that FBA members’ murders spoke volumes of the government’s failure when it came to law and order.

Dr Farhan Ali, Sayal’s son, told Daily Times that he had lodged an FIR at the Shahdara Town police station, but the investigation in charge was on leave. He said that the accused had been intimidating witnesses in the FIR.

“A suspect in Sayal’s murder, Tariq, was a constable and had been working at the Shahdara Town police station. Some of his sources told him about the raid”, sources in the police station told Daily Times.

Advocate Rana Muhammad Shabbir, Sayal’s colleague, said Sayal’s murder had deprived FBA of a senior jurist.

Muhammad Shahid Buttar, senior advocate and a member of the Punjab and Ferozewala Bar Associations, said that lawyers had become desperate after their seniors’ murders. He said that justice would suffer if advocates were not in a situation to present their versions freely. Buttar demanded patrol vehicles be provided for the courts.

Malik Asghar Javed, an FBA member, said that people, who lost cases, held advocates responsible for their failure. According to Article 44, exhibition of weapons was prohibited at any place, but weapons were common in court, he said, and pointed out an armed civilian. He said that Article 144 should be implemented because only its promulgation could not do the job.

Musa Khan, Sayal’s brother and a FBA member, said his brother was not killed for a reason, but for being an advocate.

Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa, an FBA member, said that lawyers were killed in clients’ clashes and lawyers’ families were forced to withdraw cases. Quoting an example, he said that Ghulam Nabi Nagi’s murder case was closed without any compensation to the bereaved family.

Liaquat Ali Cheema, a senior FBA member, said that there were 13 main and sub entrances to the courts and only four of those had gates. He said that any one could enter the court premises at any time, which is a glaring proof of the courts’ insecurity. Muhammad Yaseen, another FBA member, said that the government’s attitude towards the lawyers was very arrogant. He said that the Ferozewala Courts were established in 1963 and till 1970 there were only 10 lawyers there. The number of lawyers went up to 88 by 1993, and stood presently at 400, but there were only 65 chambers.

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