What is Section 144 in Pakistan
You may have heard many times that section 144 has been imposed, pillion riding (double sawari) has been banned, and public gatherings have been prohibited. During Covid 19 pandemic schools and markets were also closed under the same provision of law by the government.
Historical background of Section 144
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was first introduced in British India in 1861. After the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the provision was adopted in the Pakistani legal system as well.
The section was initially meant to maintain public order and prevent violence in situations of communal tension, strikes, and other forms of civil unrest. It gave the executive magistrate the power to prohibit the gathering of four or more persons in a particular area for a specific period, in order to maintain law and order.
Brief Introduction of Section 144
Section 144 is a legal provision of the Criminal Procedure Code Pakistan that empowers the district administration to prohibit the assembly of four or more people in an area for a specific period. This provision is enacted in order to maintain law and order, prevent public disturbance, and ensure public safety.
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) grants the District Chairman (Zilla Nazim) if the District Chairman is not present then the executive magistrate of a District the authority to issue an order in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger, prohibiting the assembly of four or more people in an area. It can be invoked for a maximum period of two months and can be extended with permission from the provincial government.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Section 144 has been frequently used to enforce social distancing measures, and restrict large gatherings in order to control the spread of the virus.
Prerequisites of imposing section 144 in Pakistan:
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) can be imposed in Pakistan by the district administration only under certain circumstances and prerequisites. These include:
Public Safety: The imposition of Section 144 is justified only when there is an apprehension of danger to public safety, health, or property.
Public Order: When there is a potential breach of public order, the administration needs to take preventive measures to maintain peace.
Urgency: The imposition of Section 144 should be an urgent measure taken in response to a situation that demands immediate action.
Proportionality: The restrictions imposed under Section 144 should be proportionate to the potential danger and should not be excessive.
Specificity: The order should be specific in its scope, duration, and geographical extent, and should not be vague or arbitrary.
Notification: The order should be notified to the public through proper channels, such as through the media or public notice boards.
Review: The order should be subject to review by a higher authority, such as the High Court or the Supreme Court if challenged.
Variety of situations in which Section 144 can be imposed:
1. Religious processions or gatherings that may lead to sectarian tensions or violence.
2. Political rallies or protests that may lead to public disorder or violence.
3. Communal tensions or conflicts between different groups of people.
4. Natural disasters or public health emergencies that require restrictions on movement or gatherings to prevent the spread of disease or ensure public safety.
5. Sports events or other public gatherings where there is a risk of violence or public disorder.
6. To enforce Covid-19 related restrictions on gatherings and movement.
Action to be taken in violation of Section 144
The violation of an order issued under Section 144 is considered a cognizable offence, and the violator can be subjected to legal action under section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code and can be punished with imprisonment for up to six months or a fine of up to ten thousand rupees, or both. The punishment will depend on the severity of the disobedience and the extent to which it causes obstruction, annoyance, injury, or risk of such to any persons lawfully employed.
Conclusively, the use of Section 144 has been controversial in Pakistan, with critics arguing that it is often used to suppress legitimate dissent and restrict freedom of assembly and expression. There have been cases where the provision has been used to prevent peaceful protests and to silence political opponents. However, it is important to note that the enforcement of Section 144 must be carried out in a manner that is consistent with the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
Ihsan Ullah has done LLB (Law and Shariah) from Islamia College University Peshawar. He is a practising lawyer in Peshawar. He writes content related to law at The Pakistan Gazette and on his Instagram Page Know The Law.