Balochistan has been the victim of violent extremism, and bloody incidents for years. These vicious incidents have mostly sparked anger, outrage and protest across the province. After every such incident, the aggrieved people of Balochistan, protests, and advocates for Justice and Peace. These demonstrations often leave us with more questions than answers. Two of the most important questions commonly come across are; whether or not these protests have served their intended purpose? What is the duty of the State in such circumstances? A vital debate into the law regarding the “Right to Protest and its limitation” is needed to find the right answers.
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to life…”, which is also guaranteed in Article 9 of the Constitution of Pakistan in slightly different words but with the same meaning “No person shall be deprived of life…”. Arguably, the ‘Right to life’ is often misunderstood in Pakistan implying that the State is responsible for the life of every individual, however, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, in one of his judgments (2019 SCMR 247) has clarified that:
“… it did not merely protect the right to exist or live but embodies the right to live in a meaningful life with a ‘minimum standard of living’ …” which means it is a right to basic amenities and living standards.
Of course, it does not mean that the citizens are left unsecured. Among other duties, the Police is also bound under Article 4 of the Police Order 2002, to protect the (i) life, property, and liberty of the citizen, and (ii) to prevent the commission of offences and public nuisance. It is further clarified by the Supreme Court of Pakistan that the Police, Rangers and Frontier Corps are bound by law to protect the lives and properties of the citizen and take all remedial steps per the law (2014 SCMR 541).
Following the recent incidents in some areas of Balochistan, including that of little Bramsh Baloch, who was critically injured and her mother got killed while resisting a dacoity, and the Hazara Town incident in which Bilal Noorzai was killed leaving two of his friends seriously injured. The police in both the cases took necessary action by promptly lodging an FIR and arresting the accused and also recovered arms from their possession, which suggests that a strong case has been made out by the prosecution with a high probability of conviction. Nevertheless, these incidents have sparked a wave of anger among the people leading to demonstrations and protests.
The right to assembly and peaceful protest is the fundamental right of all citizens in a democratic society, but it has been largely misunderstood. The said rights have limitations, and these could not be exercised by infringing the fundamental rights of others. The Supreme Court is its recent judgment (2020 CLC 157) has held that:
“… peaceful protestors espousing their cause often forgets that their right to protests ends when the other person’s right to free movement is affected …”.
Not only in Pakistan, but in many other developed countries, the civilised people have mostly taken to the streets to voice their concerns and grievances. Recently, the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minnesota Police in the USA also created a huge outcry and chaos which resulted in protests and riots against the institutionalized and structural racism faced by African Americans. Protestors have thronged the streets despite a global pandemic against the violent police brutality with strong campaign slogans like, “No Justice, No Peace”. Likewise, Justice or Bramsh, Bilal and Hadi were seen trending on social media locally in Balochistan.
It is argued that people usually come out on streets to protest when they believe that justice has not been served or at least delayed. Therefore, it is imperative that the judicial system upheld justice and provide speedy remedy to its citizens whose rights have been infringed. The people in Pakistan in general and in Balochistan in particular, are losing confidence in the State’s Criminal Justice System and Prosecution because of delayed justice and the higher acquittal rates. However, an attempt was initiated to regain that trust by the State by introducing the “Model Courts” for speedy serving justice but that is yet to show positive results.
Consequently, if the citizens are treated as per the law and ensured peace and security of their lives and property, it would regain trust in the State and minimize protests. Furthermore, along with other necessary actions the Government may also need to strengthen the prosecution service to serve justice.