ISLAMABAD   -   The Supreme Court of Pakistan Thursday said that under the Constitution of Pakistan they are bound to safeguard and protect the fundamental rights of citizens.

Chief Justice Justice Umar Ata Bandial said this while heading a five-member larger bench of the apex court that heard the government’s contempt of court plea filed by Attorney General for Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf against PTI Chairman Imran Khan over his violation of the apex court’s orders during PTI’s Azadi March.

The CJP said that the bench had not been formed to accuse anyone but to protect the fundamental rights of the people.

The bench dismissed the petition filed by the federal government seeking contempt of court proceedings against Imran Khan for allegedly violating apex court’s May 25 order. It also wrapped up the petition the Islamabad High Court Bar Association that sought removal of blockades set up to stop the PTI’s Azadi March and said that its directions of yesterday (Wednesday) hearing would remain intact.

The Court on May 25 had formed a committee comprising members of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz led allied government and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leaders to hold talks to resolve the current political crisis. The government side included Yousaf Raza Gilani, Ayyaz Sadiq, Faisal Subzwari, Asad Mehmood, Azam Nazir Tarar, Agha Jan, Khalid Magsi and Ahsan Iqbal, while the PTI side comprises Babar Awan, Amir Kiyani, Faisal Fareed, and Ali Awan.

In the beginning of hearing, AGP Ashtar Ausaf informed the bench that its directions were not complied by PTI Chairman Imran Khan.

At this, the Chief Justice asked the attorney general whether he believed the court’s directives had not been followed and some people had been injured after which law enforcement agencies took action. He observed that Articles 16 (freedom of assembly) and 17 (freedom of association) of the Constitution ensured the right to protest but it was not unlimited.

The AGP then requested for the court’s permission to play a video recording of Imran’s address to his supporters which was granted. He argued that Imran told his supporters that the SC had granted permission to protest at D-Chowk.

The Chief Justice questioned that what happened after the PTI chairman’s statement. The AGP informed, “Imran then asked his workers to reach D-Chowk.” “It is possible that the message was not delivered to Imran Khan properly,” the CJP remarked. He added, “The entire issue is [related to] a conflict. Judicial proceedings cannot be based on assumptions.”

Ashtar argued that the PTI was granted permission to protest after assurances that the Azadi March would be peaceful.

Justice Bandial observed that the court had tried to establish trust between the parties involved through its orders a day earlier. He added that the court proceedings are usually the post facto, but yesterday on the petition of the IHCBA it made efforts for protection of citizens’ rights. The court took the responsibility of being a mediator. He added that the PTI would also have “several” reservations with the government.

The attorney general argued that assurances given to the court were not followed. To this, the CJP replied, “whatever happened yesterday has ended today.” He added that the court could not enter into the executive domain, but it was always available for the protection of the rights of the people.

The court had stopped authorities from raiding people’s homes for their protection and it would maintain its order, the chief justice said. He directed the government to do its work in line with Wednesday’s orders and said the SC would issue a judgement regarding the case which would be an “example for the future”.

He observed that political workers did not have their own agenda and followed the party leadership. He further said, “We are not conducting proceedings in order to accuse anyone.” He added that the court issued the order only against violation of constitutional rights.

Justice Bandial said that it had come to the court’s notice that shelling occurred yesterday. The attorney general said that the government had to call the Pakistan Army in the capital last night.

The CJ remarked that the public’s constitutional rights are not unlimited. He said that the PTI has held 33 protests recently and all of them were peaceful. He added that they expect the PTI to be aware of its responsibility.

The attorney general informed the court that 31 policemen were injured in stone-pelting by the protesters yesterday while fire brigades and bulletproof vehicles were set on fire.

However, Justice Bandial replied that only the workers were clashing on the roads yesterday and not the leadership. He added that they set fire to protect themselves from tear gas. The leadership could have stopped the workers [but] it was not present.

The court did not have an agenda, he observed and advised the government and the PTI to build mutual trust if they wanted the court’s “moral support”. Political conflict always harms the country, Justice Bandial observed. He continued that the court will intervene in any matter of a political nature only if there is a solid reason. He further observed that becoming a danger for the system after taking the law into [your] own hands could harm the country.

The chief justice told the attorney general that the government should continue its work in accordance with the law. “The government should not violate court orders,” he directed.

AGP Ausaf informed the court that Imran had given a speech near D-Chowk yesterday in which he gave the government a six-day deadline. He added that he did not ask workers to go back. Government land worth millions was destroyed. If action is not taken, no one will implement assurances given to the court.

The chief justice recalled that a “similar” incident had taken place in the United States following presidential elections - a reference to the storming of the Capitol Hill by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

At one point, the attorney general informed the court that roads had been opened again and detained workers had been released. Justice Bandial then asked that whether the ground for the protest was still available to which the AGP responded, “The problem is [whether] the PTI will go to the ground.”

The CJP said that the court was dismissing the IHCBA petition because the roads had been opened again and that the matter would be taken up again if the court decided it was necessary. He observed that the political temperature is high and it would not be correct to intervene