LAHORE -  The Punjab government on Tuesday presented the inquiry report on the Model Town incident along with two other counter-reports before a full bench of the Lahore High Court for in-camera perusal.

The bench, headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and comprising Justice Shehbaz Ali Rizvi and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmad, took up the appeal moved by the Punjab government, challenging release of the Model Town inquiry report .

As the proceedings commenced, the judges asked the government’s lawyer, Khurram Chughtai, why the Model Town inquiry was not presented for in-camera examination. He replied as Khawaja Haris was busy in the Supreme Court, the report was not brought to the court.

The reply irked the bench which directed the Punjab home secretary to appear in chamber along with the report .

Complying with the court direction, Special Home Secretary Dr Shoaib and the government lawyer appeared before the court along with the report and other counter-documents containing reasons for rejection of the report by the government.

Earlier, Khawaja Tariq Rahim, Azhar Siddique and Barrister Ali Zafar advocates argued on behalf of Pakistan Awami Tehreek and the victims of the Model Town incident. They contended a judicial inquiry was a public document and it should be made public in the larger public interest.

The bench told the lawyers that as per arguments of the government counsels, the Model Town trial would be affected if the report was released. The victims’ lawyers said neither they nor the judges had seen the report , so how it could be said that its release would be prejudicial to administration of justice and could affect the trial. However, they said analysis/comments upon the report on TV channels might affect the trial, but the court had powers to bar the TV channels from presenting analysis on it.

Barrister Syed Ali Zafar contended police in broad daylight murdered 14 men and injured more than 100 women and children, which was also witnessed by the whole nation on television screens. He argued the Punjab government, under immense pressure from the public, constituted a judicial tribunal to find out the facts and fix responsibility on all those who were involved in it. He submitted the judicial tribunal carried out a judicial probe to ensure justice was done or not. He said 51 judicial inquiries had been released, but it was not understood why the Model Town inquiry report was not made public.

Zafar submitted the Punjab government engaged a private counsel to represent it, who argued the report belonged to the Punjab government and the people had no right to see it. Ali Zafar said: “This is a very strange and absurd argument because all information with the government belongs to the people and this is the principle of democracy. No government can claim that the Baqir Najfi report is only for the eyes of the government.”

He also pointed out that under Qanoon-e-Shahadat Order, 1984, the report of a tribunal is a public document and the government is duty bound to publish it. He relied on the concept of “freedom of speech” under Article 19 of the Constitution. Quoting various declarations and treaties of the UN, Commonwealth, Council of Europe, African Union, Hemisphere of Mexico, Arab Charter and Commonwealth of Independent States, he argued at all levels right to know is recognised as an intrinsic right which does not depend on for which purpose the information is required.

He further said when the government officials were asked why Justice Baqir Najfi’s report was not being published, their official answer was the judge who prepared the report belonged to a particular sect and this would cause religious conflicts. He argued there was no reason for the government to refuse to release the report as it was the right of every citizen under the Constitution, law and all international standards. The arguments of Zafar were in progress when the court time was over. The case was adjourned until tomorrow (November 16) when Zafar would resume his arguments.