Lahore: 2 groups of prisoners fight on court premises
LAHORE: The fragility of the security arrangements on district courts complex was self-evident yet again on Saturday when two groups of under-trial prisoners attacked each other with razors and knives outside the courtroom of judicial magistrate Kaleem Aslam Awan and then assaulted the judge who along with his staffers took refuge in a toilet to save them from attackers. The Lahore Bar Association (LBA) expressed serious concerns over the incident and announced observing strike from Monday until foolproof security was provided at all city courts.
The Saturday drama started when members of one group of under-trial prisoners reportedly made fun of women belonging to the second group. The families, including women, had come to see their kin ahead of their hearing.
Muhammad Azam, Waqas Haider, Amir Riaz and others, who were involved in murder cases, and Muhammad Naeem, Javed Mehmood and Rehman Akram, who were involved in dacoity cases, attacked each other with razors and knives they had brought along with them from the jail.
Sporting a fear of attack by their rivals or a backlash from complainants, it is believed that under-trial prisoners usually smuggle such weapons into the jail and then bring them along with them whenever they come to attend court proceedings.
The police guards who had escorted the under-trial prisoners from their respective jails also failed to overpower them and both the groups entered the courtroom of magistrate Kaleem Awan while fighting with each other. Though the under-trial prisoners were handcuffed, they were seen fighting like free men.
The shocked magistrate and his staffers rushed to the toilet of the courtroom and locked themselves inside to save their lives at the hands of under-trial prisoners brandishing sharp-edged weapons.
However, except for minor cuts and bruises, none of the prisoners received critical injuries during the episode. A wave of panic spread through the litigants and visitors. Witnesses said the under-trial prisoners also assaulted the magistrate and his staffers and tried to break open the toilet door, but failed.
City Division operations SP Dr Shahzad Asif Khan, however, said the presiding officer and court staffers were not assaulted by the miscreants. All the officials remained unhurt, he maintained.
As the fight was in progress, police personnel rushed to the scene and hounded all of the under-trial prisoners out of the courtroom to the Bakhshi Khana wherefrom they were immediately transported back to their jails.
The Lower Mall police registered a case on the complaint of magistrate’s reader against five suspects from both the groups.
The area SP said that though the incident occurred due to a security lapse, the prisoners had brought the weapons along with them from jails. He said that under-trial prisoners were brought to courts in prison department’s vehicles and it was the duty of the jail authorities to thoroughly frisk the inmates before sending them to courts.
However, he said, two officials, sub-inspector Muhammad Saleem, who is in charge of Bakhshi Khana, and the police guard in charge, had been suspended from service for their negligence.
The operations DIG also suspended from service constables Zaheeruddin, Zahoor Ahmad, Muhammad Akram and Zahid, who had escorted the accused parties from jails. Subsequently, a team was formed under the supervision of headquarters SP to investigate the incident.
Operations DIG Ghulam Mehmood Dogar also visited the spot along with district and sessions judge Mujahid Mustaqeem Ahmad. On the occasion, lawyers chanted slogans against the police for not taking sufficient security measures.
LBA secretary Farhad Ali Shah said the bar took strict notice of the police’s failure in ensuring foolproof security on court premises. He said that after a double murder at a sessions court around three weeks ago, the personnel of Elite Force were deployed on the demand of lawyers but the same were withdrawn after a few days as the security demand fizzled out with the passage of time.
He said the bar would resume its boycott of subordinate courts from Monday which would continue till the police enforced a comprehensive plan for ensuring the security of judges, lawyers and litigants. He also demanded the addition of provisions of Anti-Terrorism Act to the FIR registered after the Saturday’s incident.
It is pertinent to mention here that a man had shot two brothers dead when they appeared before an additional sessions judge to defend their interim bail in a murder case on May 28.
While the panicked court staff, including presiding officer Haji Ahmad, ducked down under their tables, the assailant fired 13 bullets single handedly on his targets and fled through the reserved door of the judge’s retiring room only to be caught on CCTV camera. No headway has been made towards solving this case as yet.