Riot Gear: Lahore High Court

At around 8 a.m. today, November 5, ’07, lawyers and civil society gathered in the central courtyard of the Lahore High Court to protest the imposition of martial law, the oath-taking by certain judges of the superior courts under the new Provisional Constitutional Order and the arrests of at least 500 lawyers and citizens since the new coup began on November 3.

When we got there, there were about 100 odd people, perhaps 150, mostly lawyers making a racket in the courtyard and generally talking to each other and any “civilians” that happened to be around. Anyone not wearing a black coat – the lawyer’s uniform – was a civilian in this case.

The slogans shouted were the usual sorts, easy to adapt from one protest to the next: Musharraf kutta haye haye; CPO murdabad; aaeen key dushman murdabad. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was lauded as the hero of the moment. Aitizaz Ahsan as well.

Then at around noon we went out towards the gates of the High Court to find them locked from the outside and an army of riot police on the other side of them. After a few minutes of banter across the gates as the lawyers and protesters attempted to leave the High Court building to take to the streets, apparently the police started hitting with sticks whoever moved forward. We were very very far back, right outside the buidlings of the compled so when we saw them run like hell from the gates, we had time enough to turn and run like hell ourselves. Sarah and I grabbed hands and stayed like that until they let us out some 3 and half hours later. Sadaf rallied all the LUMS folks around her – a bunch of students had decided to come to the protest as well – and we stayed together. They lobbed tear gas but we were prepared, thanks to the veteran protesters among us (I’ve never been to one of these before). We had our wet towels over our mouths and noses as we ran back into the courtyard, from room to room of the building, stopping only to catch our breath in one of the closed rooms that hadn’t been flooded with tear gas.

We heard bangs. Earlier, as we were going out, Pervez Hassan, an eminent lawyer, had told us that he’d heard from the storming of the Karachi High Court that they hadn’t used rubber bullets there. The implication that those bullets were real. But as we ran from room to room, we realized that no one was getting shot. This was merely an attempt (successful) to make sure that no one got out onto the streets in the first place.

First they herded the women  into one room. This was alright until we realized we were separated from our flock completely and didn’t know what would happen to them. So we ran again into the common room in which everyone had gathered and, within seconds, we were pushed, Hajj-stamped style, out the other door of it. Sarah said someone grabbed her breasts in the process. That was some presence of mind, I must say, to be able to feel up a woman while you’re running from riot police. Regardless, we came out the other end, although the way we were jammed through that doorway meant that a man a couple of people head of me more or less went through the window, breaking the glass. I believe he was okay because the only injuries we heard of were minor.

We did a lot of running. And a lot of weeping from the eyes because the tear gas was intense, and everywhere.  There’s a good chance I’ve no seen every major room on the ground floor of the building.  Regardless, after a lot of running, the police entered the main courtyard and we shoved orselves into the rooms off the side of the courtyard.

There we stayed for about 15 or 20 minutes. One woman lawyer, thin as a rail, was shaking and crying, scared out of her mind. The male lawyers were trying to offer her salt to eat (apparently it lessens the effect of tear gas) and water to wash out her eyes, not realizing that basically she was shit scared. Another woman standing right next to her was so cool, so business-like that I really wish I’d asked her name and number, got to know her a bit. Although she’s probably in jail in Mianwali right now.

About 25 people packed in a small room, we waited until  there was no more waiting. We’d been separated from our crew, so people were calling other people and making sure everyone was fine – they were. And then they forced the doors open and said, “Whoever comes peacefully won’t be harmed.” Since there was no way out now, we went peacefully, is Students Plus Profs contingent and many came out after us.

First we were convinced we were under arrest. As we walked out slowly, five or six cameras clicked in all our faces. People were asking us who we were and where we came from. We were the oddities: at a lawyers protest, what are these people in civilian clothes? They asked us why were we there and what were we protesting about. Sadaf got fairly miffed at about the third time someone asked this question and said that the lawyers aren’t  protesting for their bread and butter, they’re protecting an institution – the judiciary. The institution is there to safeguard our rights. We’re protesting for the same reason they are: to safeguard the institution that protects our rights.

After taking us to the gate, someone yelled to the officers in front that we weren’t to be put in vans. They told us, amidst a mass of lady police, to stand at one side quietly. So the herded us into a group, marked us “student” and that was that for a while. I made phone calls. We had no idea if we were getting arrested or not.

In a while, Sadaf went up to find out if we were the only ones being protected like this or if others were also being round up. Somewhere in there, they decided to take us to the vans again and so we went. One man, a high-ish ranking officer said, “You wanted to go, now you’re going to Mianwali.” A student said, “My village is in Mianwali.” The officer said, “Well then you’ll be very comfortable there, sir.”

But again we were taken back. This time the SSP refused to let us get on the bus (or was it the SP? not sure). He looked at me and said, “Do you want to get on the bus?” We told them, no, they were sending us. A confusion of yelling ensued, the result of which was that we went again to our corner, thsi time with with S/SP saying behind us, “Constitution may be as it is. People can arrest students if they want, I’m certainly not going to.”

About 10 minutes later, after being told by the same Mianwali-taunt man that we’re all in charge of each other, we were escorted out of the High Court complex, onto Mall, across the barricades, and let loose. And we came home.

The news now is that they’ve arrested 700 people at the High Court out of 2000 protesting. Don’t know if those figures are right but I’ll keep you updated.

Stumble it!


#1 Mixed Nuts » Blog Archive » Catching up on 11.05.07 at 6:10 pm

[…] Kyla has been writing about the situation steadily and about her participation in the Lahore protest on  Nov 5. […]

#2 Afnan on 11.07.07 at 2:20 am

Full marks to you for showing solidarity with lawyers and civil society.

Leave a Comment