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DHA ban on public Muharram processions flouting constitution

LAHORE: In defiance of fundamental rights and religious freedom enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan, the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) has imposed a complete ban on the conduction of Muharram processions, barring people from even hold gatherings and meetings on religious, political and social basis in public.

As it was framed in DHA by-laws since its inception, there would be no Zuljinnah procession on the 10th Muharram in the upscale locality same like the past many years. A number of Shia leaders condemned the policy and slammed the rule of business being exercised in the DHA. However, they decided not to boil up on the anti-constitutional DHA rules to maintain peace during Muharram.

According to DHA by-laws, freedom of expression, procession (religious or political), meetings and social get-to-gathers were allowed only on private premises instead in public.

Every part of the city including the Lahore Cantonment Board, Walton Cantonment Board, Model Town and housing societies belonging to the City District Government Lahore and the Lahore Development Authority allow Muharram processions and gatherings in public. But, the DHA has imposed a ban on such activities flouting the constitution of Pakistan. DHA spokesman Tajamul Hussain Anjum told Pakistan Today that DHA ensured complete political and religious freedom.

“Muslims belonging to various sects visit the mosques and perform religious rituals freely,” he said, adding that nobody had any problem in offering their religious obligations within the limit of the building. Tajamul mentioned that those wanting to join Muharram procession go to nearby localities and they were happy to do, thus DHA did not discriminate against anyone.

Case pending: Sadiq Shah, a resident of DHA, said that since the Shia sect had complete religious freedom ensured by the constitution, it decided to construct an imambargah in Phase V with the consent of former General Shafqat. But DHA did not allow the construction of the imambargah, citing the DHA by-laws as barring such an act, he added. However, he said that the residents filed suit in court in 2008 to seek justice and the issue had been pending since then.

Tehreek-e-Jafria head Sajid Naqvi said that the DHA by-laws were wrong and did not follow the sections of the constitution that ensured the fundamental rights of every sect. He quoted the fundamental rights and principles of policy in chapter I of the constitution that said, “(a) Every citizen shall have the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion; and (b) every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions. He said that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also wanted to constitute a committee for religious policy but the Tehreek-e-Jafria had said that religious freedom could not be put under any terms and conditions.

Ban challenge: Shia Ulema Council Lahore President Asif Zaidi said that the DHA administration held mala fide attentions against the Shia sect and objected to the ban policy. He demanded religious freedom for each sect and pressed DHA to change its’ by laws according to the spirit of the constitution of Pakistan.

He said that the Shia sect would win the case of the imambargah construction in Phase V, DHA and claimed that soon the ban imposed by DHA would be challenged. Famous human rights activist and South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) Secretary General Imtiaz Alam said that the constitution of Pakistan was supreme and ensured fundamental rights and religious freedom.

He said nobody or any authority had the power to place an embargo in violation of the constitution. However, Imtiaz said that unless he went through the by-laws of DHA, he reserved the right to comment on them.

Another human rights activist and constitutional expert Tahira Abdullah said that DHA had no right to violate the constitution.

She said that articles 25, 9 and 14 of the constitution protected the fundamental rights that everybody was allowed to follow any religion or school of thought, and the DHA had no authority to stop anyone from performing religious obligations and exercising their freedom of speech.

An executive member of the DHA Resident Association, seeking anonymity, said that as DHA had prohibited the Shia sect to hold Zuljinnah processions and religious gatherings outside the boundary of their private buildings, mourners had to go to imambargahs in Nishat Colony adjacent to DHA and some yards away from the main entry gate of DHA near Adil Hospital at Mian Boulevard that fell in the jurisdiction of Walton Cantonment Board.

Source: Pakistan Today

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