LAHORE - The inquiry report prepared by Justice Ali Baqar Najfi has implicitly pointed finger at the police and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, holding them responsible for the model town killings that could have been “easily avoided”.
Complying with the LHC full bench order, the Punjab government yesterday made the report public through the website of its public relations directorate.
But the online report, compiled after a judicial inquiry into the police massacre at Minhajul Quran Secretariat on June 17, 2014, accompanied a one-man committee’s review pointing out its flaws and anomalies.
The release of the damning report was also preceded by a lengthy presser by Sanaullah, who sought to call it inconclusive and flawed. He said the report heavily relied on “secondary evidence” and therefore had no legal value.
The Punjab government decided not to file appeal against the LHC verdict, maintaining that the report at nowhere held it responsible for the killing of PAT workers in clash with police .
The Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Dr Tahirul Qadri, which has been pressing for the publication of the report and had also held a 66-day long protest dharna in Islamabad in 2014 for case against the public functionaries, has rejected the report alleging the government has tampered with it.
The party has also questioned authenticity of the report on the ground it has not been duly signed by Home secretary.
The PAT also accuses the government of holding back the reports submitted by the intelligence agencies on the incident.
Justice Najafi report is divided into two parts, one of which consists of 74 pages detailing how the incident happened and what positions the two sides had taken, besides the evidences of witnesses and reports of intelligence agencies. The other 54-page part comprises the order sheet.
The Judicial Commission, formed on the request of Punjab government, reached its findings after recording statements of the police and administrative officials and government functionaries including Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, and on the basis of affidavit of Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Though the judge himself does not affix responsibility for the tragedy, he invites readers to review the facts and circumstances and “easily fix the responsibility” of the unfortunate incident themselves.
The report says the then Rana Sanaullah seems to have already decided on June 16, 2014 that PAT chairman would not be allowed to hold a long march, planned for June 23 from Rawalpindi to Lahore.
This determination of the minister to thwart Dr Qadri’s political objectives ended up influencing the police’s heavy-handed strategy in dealing with the situation, which resulted in the needless loss of lives the very next day, Justice Najafi argues in the report.
The commissioner Lahore is said to have briefed Sanaullah about the barriers placed on roads around Minhajul Quran Academy, which were technically illegal and could be considered and treated as encroachments by the authorities.
The tribunal noted that the operation planned and designed under the chairmanship of the minister that resulted into gruesome killings could have easily been avoided as the barriers installed outside Idara Minhajul Quran had been there without any complaint from any quarter for more than three years.
Going by Justice Najafi’s account, Sanaullah seems to have seized on this ‘excuse’ to disperse the PAT supporters from there. It was “decided to remove them [the encroachments] with immediate effect,” Justice Najafi writes.
The minister said that the government did not issue the report fearing of the sectarian violence.
However, the report said that the PAT’s women workers were dragged by the policemen from their hairs as they chanted slogans “Nara-i-Takbeer”, “Narae-Haidry” and policemen heard them making calls to Hazrat Hussain (RA) and Hazrat Ali (RA) to save them from their wrath.
The inquiry tribunal, quoting statement of the then Lahore DCO, said that the staff of Town Municipal Administration of Gulberg Town and TMAs of Zone II reached the spot at midnight on June 16 for removing encroachments. The furious mob and sympathisers mainly young men commenced pelting stones at police , which retaliated with firing towards the protestors – leaving many injured, some of whom succumbed to their wounds afterward.
The report says that admittedly, such a level of offensive by police by any stretch of imagination did not commensurate with the level of resistance by unarmed PAT workers. Again, the report says, such were the facts and circumstances under which 14 persons have been shot on the vital parts of their bodies.
Timing of incident
The report said that “The day (June 17, 2014) and time (between 10:30am to 12pm) both are very vital as Inspector General police did not practically take over the command of Punjab police and at the same time the new Chief Justice was about to take oath.... Had the tribunal been empowered to investigate, the hidden truth might have been exposed”.
More worryingly, Justice Najafi recalls that when the federal government was asked why the Punjab police chief and DCO Lahore were changed in the run-up to the model town “bloodbath”, it did not provide any satisfactory response. “Such facts and circumstances obviously lead to an adverse opinion,” his report states.
Who ordered shooting?
“The level of cooperation in digging out the truth is that no police official from top to bottom, whether [they] actively participated in the operation or not, did not utter a single word about the person under whose command the police resorted to firing upon the PAT workers. Understandably, all were in unison in withholding the information from this tribunal. Unfortunately, such are the facts and circumstances in which they continued to proceed,” the report says.
The judge also notes that the order to open fire must have been given specifically by an officer of the police not below the rank of an Assistant Superintendent or Deputy Superintendent of police , according to Section 128 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.
“The tribunal, therefore, remained conscious of the deliberate silence and concealment of facts by police officials/officers [...] creating circumstances to think that the police had to abide by the command announced secretly (or openly) to achieve the target at the cost of even killing the unarmed but precious citizens of Pakistan.”
“This led the tribunal to say that this motif of betrayal of law by the police aimed at burying the truth speaks volumes of their high handedness” and leave the commission with no option but to give a suggestion that “in future, to avoid such like situation, it is imperative that legislative reforms be brought in to empower the magistrate to pass the order for releasing fire by the police so that the responsibility can be fixed after ascertaining facts and circumstances”.
The report also raises doubts regarding the intentions and role of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
“[Secretary to CM] Dr Tauqeer Shah also consented on behalf of the Chief Minister, Punjab for the removal of the barriers,” the report said, hinting at the possible involvement of the provincial chief executive.
It quoted Shehbaz Sharif’s oath saying that on June 17 his official engagement started after about 9am when he proceeded to Governor House to attend oath-taking ceremony of new chief justice of the Lahore High Court.
According to him having seen standoff at 9:30am on TV, he (CM) immediately contacted his Secretary Dr Tauqir Hussain Shah on phone to order the police to disengage forthwith. However, Tauqir Shah in his affidavit did mention the order of disengagement, telephonically conveyed to the law minister and home secretary, but in turn they informed that two field officers informed that the situation was likely to be normalised/controlled.
Strange enough that Rana Sanaullah did not utter a single word about “disengagement”, the report said. Likewise, Punjab Home Secretary did not mention the word “disengagement” in his report but he talked about CM’s concern conveyed to him through Tauqir Shah.
“During this period, I also received a call from the Secretary to CM who conveyed the CM’s concern regarding the ongoing stand-off and said that the matter should be resolved peacefully. I informed him that DCO and DIG Operations were on-site and trying to resolve the matter peacefully,” the report quoted home secretary as saying.
Quoting collected reports and circumstances, the inquiry tribunal held that “their reports and affidavits did not depict that any order of “disengagement” by the chief minister was ever conveyed/received. “It is shocking to note that everyone has deliberately but unsuccessfully tried to cover each other from possible adverse legal effects.”
Also, the tribunal “has very carefully seen” the CD of the very first press conference of CM on June 17 after the incident in which he did not mention specifically about his direction of “disengagement”, despite taking a notice of the clashes in the morning.
“The record does not reveal its activation, effective communication, implementation, execution or follow up showing that the order, if any, may have been passed listlessly,” the report concludes.
Deliberate police high-handedness
The tribunal concludes that “facts and circumstances of the bloodbath clearly show that the police officers actively participated in the massacre . The apathy and reckless of all authorities in Punjab in the matter created the genuine doubt about their innocence”.
The report further says “the action of police firing and severely beating the people on the crime scene is irrefutably suggestive that the police did exactly for which they were sent and gathered over there. The police and all other concerned without any exception, abetted being desperado, performed daredevil acts, which resulted into irreparable loss”.
As for fixation of the direct responsibility, the report says “the reader of this report can easily fix the responsibility” of the unfortunate incident.
Addressing a press conference ahead of the report release, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said that Justice Najfi’s report has no legal and evidentiary value for the ongoing trial before Anti-Terrorism Court on the model town incident.
Punjab government will not appeal the LHC Full Bench verdict of making Najfi report public and is releasing the report, fulfilling the commitment made earlier to comply with the court order, he announced. He said the report was being published verbatim and nothing has been held back.
The minister found a number of anomalies in the report and particularly mentioned the concluding part to bring home that the inquiry judge has left interpretation of his exercise to the readers which means the report was inconclusive and one that could lead to different meanings by different readers – creating disagreement and trouble. What if the reader would interpret the report to hold Dr Tahirul Qadri responsible for the occurrence, he remarked.
Rana sana said claimed that at nowhere in the report the responsibility has been fixed on Punjab government, on chief minister or on him. He said the chief minister on learning about the clash had sought disengagement of the groups and had also filed his affidavit that had attained finality after it was not questioned before the inquiry tribunal.
As to him, he has been held to have presided over meeting for removal of the barriers but the one-sided evidence has been entertained by the commission in this respect.
The minister said that the report was also passed through the scrutiny of former judge of Supreme Court Khalilur Rahman Ramday and he has detected many unclear aspects therein. He asked the one-man inquiry commission to revisit the report and remove the ambiguities.
He said the report is not related to any case as such it has no legal importance. It also cannot be cited as evidence before the trial court, he added. He said the report has been prepared on the executive side as it is open to critical evaluation.
Rana accused PAT of fomenting sentiments of the people to create chaos and said the government will not let it do that after the report has been made public. He further warned against using the report for fanning sectarian feelings.