At the Sabzazar Police Station Dr. Parvez Hassan
At the Sabzazar Police Station Dr. Parvez Hassan
They herded lawyers in the police bus – about 35 of us – knew nothing about where we were being taken after our arrest at the Lahore High Court on 5 November 2007. Speculation mounted in discussions in the bus but it was soon overtaken by the rumour/news received on some mobile telephones with the lawyers that General Musharaf had been removed and placed under house arrest. The hatred for Musharaf seemed so intense that this appeared the best news of the day although with the reported take over by General Kiani, it was sadly a case of "from the fire into the frying pan".
The first thing when we arrived at the Sabzazar Police Station (further out of Lahore near Allama Iqbal Town) was that we were unlocked out of the police bus and searched. All mobile phones were confiscated. I do not use, have or carry a mobile phone and by this time the expectation, subtly fed to us, was that we would be taken from Sabzazar to jails in Bahawalpur, Sahiwal or Mianwali. I am a heart patient: I had a heart attack in 2004 and doctors at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore then operated me to place three stents in my heart blood vessels. I have been regimented since to taking several medicines, morning and evening. Some of these are important for the thinning of the blood to prevent strokes. When I saw the prospect of being held incommunicado without information to my family, I wanted desperately to reach out for my medicines.
Courtesy a colleague on the bus, I hurriedly used his mobile before getting out of the bus to be searched in the police station to inform my Secretary in the office about the Sabzazar Police Station minutes before the mobile was confiscated by the Police Station. Otherwise, no one could have found out where we were being held. The only redeeming thing for the whole day turned out to be that the Police Station allowed the medicines to be delivered to me in the cell when my son, Omar, rushed to bring these to Sabzazar.
The cell in Sabzazar was an unclean, filthy room with a toilet and tap in the middle with a 4 foot wall around it. The 35 of us were all jam-packed, once again, into this room which was actually meant for fewer people. Having been a political activist with the Tehrik-i-Istiqlal and, later, with the Tehrik-e-Insaf as its first Secretary General, I well know and have been exposed to the conditions of our police stations and jails. In criticizing the conditions for the detainees, one is not asking for 5 star comfort but what I am suggesting is that 60 years after our independence, the conditions in our police stations and jails have not matched the worldwide developments towards the dignity of human beings increasingly recognized through international Magna Cartas such as the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, and the International Covenants on Human Rights, 1966 and the human rights provisions in our own national Constitution. It is a measure of our national shame that even enemy prisoners of war (POWs) receive better treatment under the Geneva Conventions than do our detainees in our police stations and jails.
We slept on the hard dirty floor in our court dresses without access to any cover of blankets in the cool and mosquito-infested night. The space was so over-crowded that when I got up from a brief nap, I found a young lawyer using my legs as a pillow.
But the mood was optimistic and the spirits high. We soon went into telling jokes and reciting poetry and found a Master of Ceremonies who directed the order of our presentations. Much of the humour – mostly obscene – was in respect of General Pervez Musharaf and if there were any (spy) bugs in the room, many of the 35 lawyers could easily be hauled up under anti-obscenity statutes!
The most eloquent and, for me, the most moving presentation was from a young lawyer who proudly declared that 5 November 2007 was the most important day of his life because he had decided, on this date, that he would never appear before a PCO Judge. He was equally proud to announce that, acting on this resolve, he had only that morning returned a (huge) fee of Rs. 4,000 to a client whose case he would no longer handle. This was the most humbling experience for me. That morning, I too had acted on the same resolve to return the professional fee of over Rs. one (1) crore paid to me by clients whose cases I would no longer argue because of the PCO Judges. But I felt that my gesture after 37 years of a busy professional life did not match the sacrifice of this young struggling lawyer. I wish all other lawyers see similar light on the start of their careers.
My bonding with the 35 colleagues at Sabzazar came to an end early on 6 November 2007 when because of the dedicated and worried efforts of my architect son, Omar, and nephew, Jawad, I was released from Sabzazar Police Station on grounds of age (66) and a medical condition duly certified by the country's leading cardiologist, Dr. Shaharyar Sheikh. I should also acknowledge the humane response to my medical problems by the efficient SHO of the Sabzazar Police Station, Qamar Abbas, and his deputy, Atif.