Black Coat: Victim of Yellow Journalism

By: Khalid Ranjha & Haider Bajwa

Every sane mind would condemn the events that unfolded before Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) a couple of days ago. The way lawyers responded to an inflammatory video by Dr. Irfan, a member of Young Doctors Association (YDA), is unjustifiable to say the least. As a logical consequence to the disgusting incident state came into action and arrested those involved in perpetrating violence. What made the incident even more shocking was that it exposed the ethical standards of practitioners of law and medicine, the noblest of all the professions. What to speak of the rest of society, when those whose professions demand maintenance of highest moral standards stooped so low that animosity and egoistic display of hooliganism made them blind to the safety of the cardiac patients. However, those who took to television screen to demonise the legal profession turned a blind eye to the fact that it were doctors who originally misused the hospital premises, beat up lawyers and ridiculed the legal community.

One of the bane of the post-truth world is that people can no longer differentiate between fiction and reality. Though people rightly pointed out the barbaric nature of the incident before PIC as hospitals and doctors remain immune from attack even during war but none considered the fact that doctors themselves had used the hospital premises for purposes other than the provision of medical assistance.

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As a matter of fact, Sections 34 and 149 of Pakistan Penal Code imply that constructive criminal liability may be imposed for consequences which are accidentally realised as a result of a prohibited conduct. In such a case, a person may be equated with the actual and principal offender so far as the legal liability is concerned even if he has not directly contributed anything towards the commission of a certain offence. As the protest and the violence that followed it had been the result of a highly insulting speech by Dr. Irfan, he also stands guilty of the crime, through his constructive presence, lawyers had been apprehended for. In fact, the principle of constructive liability, as was decided by the Permanent Court of International Justice in S.S Lotus case, is also an established principle in international law. However, curiously enough media persons, not ready to listen to any sane voice, even ridiculed Mr. Raza Rabbani, a seasoned Pakistani politician, who cautioned them against putting the whole blame on lawyers as doctors had also acted highly immaturely.

One of the bane of the post-truth world is that people can no longer differentiate between fiction and reality. Though people rightly pointed out the barbaric nature of the incident before PIC as hospitals and doctors remain immune from attack even during war but none considered the fact that doctors themselves had used the hospital premises for purposes other than the provision of medical assistance. Those who blamed lawyers for turning a hospital into a battle ground did not consider the fact that doctors did it first when they barbarically beat up three lawyers, video evidence of the same is available, over a trivial matter. Likewise, those who castigated lawyers, very uncivilisedly, for staging a protest before a hospital failed to remember that Dr. Irfan reportedly made his provocative speech, and PIC staff and doctors cheered him on, in the same hospital.

So, if a particular place, hospital in this case, is being misused for spreading hatred against a particular community, then obviously the affected community would register its protest before the same. To make it easy to understand, let’s consider the case of Lal Masjid also. Though a mosque is a very holy place but if the occupants of the mosque are suspected of some terror activities then it would surely be very foolish of the law enforcement agencies if they conduct an operation at a place other than that mosque. Though there is no justification for the violence that took place in the hospital premises but lawyers were right to choose hospital for the peaceful protest. And if those who took part in the protest are to be believed, protesters remained peaceful, video evidence of the lawyers making way for the ambulances is also available, until they were provoked through stone throwing from inside the hospital.

Similarly, no excuses are worth listening vis-a-vis death of three cardiac patients during protest. However, young doctors would do well if they also release the number of deaths during Young Doctors Association’s strikes at all major hospitals in the country. And if lawyers are taken to account for the death of these patients, and they must be held responsible if it is established that the cause of death was linked to the protest, then young doctors must also be put to trial, through application of Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan, for the deaths of patients during their twenty nine day strike which ended on the order of the Lahore High Court on November 7, 2019.

And as those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, vandalism displayed within and outside PIC, though condemnable, is characteristic of all state institutions and professions in Pakistan. For instance, ruling party’s politicians who have been most vocal in criticism of lawyers have themselves been accused of attacking parliament and PTV office. Likewise, one can enlist hundreds of incidents, ranging from manhandling of physically challenged people to shooting parents in front of children in Sahiwal and staging fake encounters by officers of the ilk of Rao Anwar, of a nature more barbaric than the violence wrecked by some of those belonging to legal community.

What is extremely troubling is that rather than seeing the violence before PIC as an act of a few misguided individuals, media is hell bent on demonising legal community as a whole. Prominent anchorpersons have been seen running a sensational campaign of discrediting black coat. This is in itself a psychological violence against peaceful members of the legal community. Unfortunately, a highly immature media has tarred all members of the legal community with the same brush. This psychological violence has led to catastrophic consequences as every member of the legal community has been hurt and seen the respect he or she gained throughout his or her career going up in smoke. Immature display of sensationalism by all major electronic media outlets, as some anchorpersons even termed lawyers as terrorists, has erroneously equated all members of legal community with hardened criminals.

“When dictators and tyrants seek to destroy the freedom of men, their first target is the legal profession and through it the rule of law”, said Leon jaworski, an American attorney at law. It seems from the way lawyers had been demonised in the past few days that a concerted campaign of discrediting this profession is underway. In fact, public image of a profession creates a framework by which others approach the members of that profession. Sadly, a hostile media, through an incessant hate campaign, is portraying lawyers as beasts. Lawyers, in fact, have spearheaded great movements, Pakistan Movement and Movement for the Restoration of Judiciary are but two of them. However, recent media led hate campaign against legal community is so intense and so vicious that it has not only discredited senior lawyers but also left junior lawyers, like ourselves, who take pride in joining this noble profession disheartened. The sooner media ends this hate campaign the better because if lawyers who along students have always acted as a bulwark against all oppressive forces are left demoralised none would stand as a resistant force anymore.

The writers are lawyers based in Lahore. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]