‘Don’t fall into this trap’: Imran postpones election rally in Lahore after govt imposes Section 144

The PTI chief, in an apparent act of defiance, had announced a fresh rally in Lahore on March 12. days after the interim setup cracked down on the party’s March 8 election rally.


PTI’s Hammad Azhar addresses a press conference in Lahore on Sunday. — DawnNewsTV

March 13, 2023

ISLAMABAD PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Sunday called off his party’s election rally in Lahore after the Punjab caretaker government imposed Section 144 (ban on public gatherings) in the provincial capital.

Last night, the PTI chief, in an apparent act of defiance, had announced a fresh rally in Lahore today — days after the interim setup cracked down on the party’s March 8 election rally.

Soon after the announcement, the district administration banned public gatherings through the invocation of Section 144 in the Punjab capital, citing concerns in the wake of a Pakistan Super League (PSL) match in the city.

Subsequently, the PTI approached Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) offices and the courts against the interim government’s move, saying that the imposition of Section 144 should be declared null and void.

However, the PTI chief then postponed the rally altogether, calling on his workers to “not fall into this trap”.

“It seems again that Section 144 has been imposed illegally solely on the PTI election campaign as all other public activities are ongoing in Lahore,” he said on Twitter.

The former premier claimed that only Zaman Park had been surrounded by containers and a heavy police contingent.

“Clearly, like March 8, Punjab CM and police want to provoke clashes to file more sham FIRs against the PTI leadership and workers and use it as a pretext for postponing elections.

“Election schedule has been announced so how can Section 144 be imposed on political activity? I AM TELLING ALL PTI WORKERS NOT TO FALL INTO THIS TRAP. Hence we have postponed the rally till tomorrow,” he added.

In another tweet, he said that the people of Lahore were “already out in huge numbers” despite the fact that his Zaman Park residence was “sealed”.

“However, I cannot allow any injuries to my workers, the general public or my police just so these fascists can register more FIRs against us and find a pretext to run away from elections,” he said as he shared a video of the people gathered outside Zaman Park.

PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the media that the party was postponing its rally till tomorrow and “giving the government another chance”.

At the same time, he urged workers to remain peaceful. “Imran will lead the rally tomorrow from Zaman Park to Data Darbar. Will make a third attempt to carry out a peaceful rally,” he said.

PTI’s Hammad Azhar, meanwhile, said that the party didn’t want “more bodies to fall”. He alleged that the “murder” of PTI worker Bilal was covered up, but said that the party wanted a “peaceful struggle”.

“We are postponing the rally,” he said while speaking to the media, calling on workers to be prepared.

He said that the PTI had halted its rallies in March and November last year due to fear of bloodshed. However, he cautioned that the party would not tire, would not back down and would not get scared.

PTI approaches LHC

Earlier, PTI vice president Shah Mahmood Qureshi — flanked by former minister Fawad Chaudhry — said that the party had decided to approach the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the imposition of Section 144.

“We are waiting for the registrar. As soon as he comes we will put forward this emergent situation,” he told media persons.

He claimed that the caretaker government wanted to “create a clash” so that the PSL match could be canceled and reasons for arrests of PTI workers be created.

Fawad Chaudhry and Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Sunday.—Screengrab from PTI official

“We tried yesterday and will today too try to preempt this through a legal way,” he stated. “We have decided to remain peaceful and not lose our patience in front of the chaos that the government had created.”

Meanwhile, Fawad Chaudhry said that it was impossible to hold elections amid the tension in the province and requested the court to immediately take up the petition because the “Constitution is in danger”.

The PTI petition filed in the LHC today, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, prayed that the Punjab government’s orders regarding the imposition of Section 144 in Lahore be set aside in the interest of “justice, fair play, and equity”.

It also stated that the government should provide sufficient security to the PTI rally.

No ban on political activities: Mohsin Naqvi
On the other hand, Punjab Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi has said that no ban had been imposed on political activities in the city.

“All political parties are freely allowed to campaign,” he tweeted.

“We have restricted rallies and political activities for today as we have a PSL cricket match, team movements, and marathon in Lahore,” he said, adding that all these events had been planned and announced much in advance.

ECP calls meeting on March 13
Meanwhile, Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja has called a meeting of the electoral body on Monday (March 13) to discuss the PTI’s petitions against the “illegal imposition” of Section 144 and the ban on the party’s rallies in Lahore.

In a media talk on Sunday morning, PTI leader and lawyer Babar Awan said that a petition had been filed in the Central Secretariat of the electoral body in Islamabad against the imposition of Section 144 in Lahore.

The plea, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said that the ECP had already announced the schedule for polls in the province and permitted all the political parties to undertake activities as per the law.

However, it noted, the Punjab interim government in blatant violation of the ECP’s code of conduct and relevant orders had directed the district administration of Lahore to impose Section 144 in Lahore in a bid to stop the PTI rally in Lahore.

“This is the second time since the announcement of the election schedule, Punjab Interim Government has led to this fascist tactic to stop Pakistan’s largest political party (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) to do electoral/political activity.”

The petition recalled that on March 8, the interim government in Punjab had imposed a ban on rallies in Lahore which led to a police operation on a party worker and the death of Zille Shah — a worker who PTI claims was killed by the Punjab police during the crackdown.

“The Punjab Interim Government/CM/Cabinet wants to repeat the same events even now and this light-handedness may lead to lego constitutional crises and political instability,” the petition warned.

It further highlighted that the PTI rally was slated to commence at 2pm today while the PSL match in the city was scheduled for 7pm. “The PTI rally will end by 5:30pm for which the rally route is completely different from the PSL match.”

The applicant also referred to the Supreme Court’s March 1 order — in which it had directed the ECP to immediately hold elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab — saying that in its judgment the apex court had issued directions to the federal government and interim Punjab set up under Article 148 of the Constitution.

“It is the constitutional duty of the Federation, in terms of clause (3) of Article 148 ‘to ensure that the Government of every Province is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution’.

“There can be no doubt that this duty includes ensuring that a general election to the Assembly of every Province is held, and enabled to be held in a timely manner within the period set out in the Constitution. This duty is in addition to and applies independently of the duty cast under Article 220 on ‘all executive authorities in the Federation and in the Provinces to assist the Commissioner and the Election Commission in the discharge of his or their functions’,” the petition quoted the apex court’s orders.

It further quoted that “it is the duty of the Provincial governments, acting under the caretaker cabinets to proactively provide all aid and assistance as may be required by the election commission”.

“The ECP is requested to take notice of this illegal imposition of Section 144 in Lahore and the order may be declared null and void and without justification and PTI may be allowed to hold an election rally as per plan,” the petition concluded.

Meanwhile, in his media talk today, Awan said that the Punjab government’s orders were unconstitutional, undemocratic, and against the law.

He claimed that the PTI petition had been accepted and urged the ECP to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities.

Separately, PTI leader Yasmin Rashid filed a similar petition in the ECP’s regional office in Lahore, saying that the route of the party’s rally and the PSL match was completely different.

“ECP is requested to take notice of the illegal imposition of Section 144 in Lahore and the order may be declared null and void and without justification.

And the PTI may be allowed to hold the election rally as per the plan,“ it added. Subsequently, the provincial election commission assured the PTI that its petition will be sent to the chief election commissioner.

In a media talk earlier today, Rashid, flanked by PTI leader Mian Aslam Iqbal, urged supporters to stay put and maintain peace, adding that the party won’t take out the rally under it is granted permission.

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