The chief justice of Islamabad High Court in Pakistan on Monday took a dig at India, saying the constitutional rights of protestors in the country would be protected, Dawn reported. Chief Justice Athar Minallah was referring to the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act that started late last year, and insinuated that India had violated protestors’ constitutional rights despite being a democracy.
The court was hearing bail petitions filed by 23 human rights activists arrested at a demonstration in Islamabad and charged with sedition. The protest on January 28 was jointly organised by the Awami Workers Party, whose provincial president Ammar Rashid was among those arrested, and the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement. The police has accused the demonstrators of defying orders and shouting anti-government slogans.
“Everyone’s constitutional rights will be protected,” Minallah said at the hearing on Monday. “This is Pakistan, not India.”
He said an elected government cannot place curbs on freedom of expression. “We should not fear criticism,” the judge added. “If you want to protest, get permission. If you don’t get permission, the court is here.”
Last week, the court had sought an explanation from the magistrate for invoking the sedition charges against the activists.
Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat told the court on Monday that all charges against the protestors had been dropped by the administration, Geo TV reported. The court then granted bail to the protestors.
“The state has withdrawn the FIR and all charges against us,” Rashid tweeted. “Thank you to all who stood with us in solidarity. Hope this sets a lasting precedent against the criminalisation of dissent, peaceful protest and freedom of expression in our country.”
The sedition charge has been used in India in recent times to quell dissent. Last month, two women in Karnataka’s Bidar district were arrested after the students of a school performed a play criticising the Citizenship Amendment Act. The women – one of them the head teacher of the school, and the other the mother of a student – were granted bail on Friday after two weeks.
Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam has been charged with sedition in five states – Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Delhi – for allegedly making incendiary remarks. In a speech at Aligarh Muslim University on January 16, Imam allegedly told protestors to “cut off Assam from India” by occupying the “Muslim-dominated Chicken’s Neck”. The Mumbai Police filed a sedition case against 51 people earlier this month for allegedly chanting slogans in support of Imam at a queer pride in the city.