LAHORE: Hundreds of lawyers stormed and ransacked a key hospital in Lahore on Wednesday to avenge what they said an assault by doctors there on a fellow advocate a few days back, and at least three heart patients died during the violence, authorities said.
Lahore city police chief Zulfikar Hameed said the mob smashed windowpanes, doors and equipment at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology and also set several vehicles on fire. Some of the protesters fired gunshots and pelted arriving police with stones and bricks, according to a hospital doctor, Ashraf Nizami. Several lawyers were arrested, police said. “It was catastrophic for hours,” Nizami said, adding that a 70-year-old female patient was among those dead, and several patients were left unattended for hours, during the violence. He said the attackers forced doctors and nurses to flee, leaving patients in emergency and intensive care unattended.
Police fired tear gas to quell the mob while terrified patients and hospital staff fled to safety, officials said.
Lahore government official Kamran Ali said the lawyers were enraged over what they said was the beating by doctors of a lawyer at the hospital over his refusal to get in a queue of patients. He said the lawyers were particularly angry about the doctors disseminating a mobile phone video on social media showing the beating.
Videos of the incident shared on Twitter showed police officials, clad in riot gear, rendered helpless as a swarm of lawyers, outnumbering the law enforcement personnel, broke the entrance of the hospital.
Grand Health Alliance Chairman Dr Salman Haseeb had earlier put the death toll at four. However, Punjab Health Minister Yasmeen Rashid at a press conference later in the day confirmed the death of three people. “One woman was being resuscitated, one patient was admitted to the CCU 3 ward and one was in the emergency ward since Tuesday and had been quite stable but got a cardiac arrest,” the minister said.
According to reports, the deceased patients were left unattended after the lawyers barged into the emergency wards.
The lawyers also attacked media personnel on the site with stones. Female reporter, Kinza Malik, of a local TV channel was injured and her phone was also snatched.
An eyewitness outside the Services Hospital said a group of lawyers fired shots outside the hospital. He added that the lawyers were cursing police officials who were trying to control the situation.
Police used tear gas and resorted to baton charges in an attempt to disperse the lawyers, who had gathered at the hospital in large numbers. The president and secretary of the Lahore High Court Bar Association also arrived at the PIC to convince the angry lawyers to leave the hospital.
Prime Minister Imran Khan summoned an emergency meeting in the wake of the attack. According to reports, the prime minister contacted Punjab chief secretary and inspector general of police, summoning a report on the incident within an hour.
“We will not let anyone take law into their hands,” the prime minister was quoted as saying. He gave directions for finding out those behind the incident and taking appropriate action against them.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar ordered the formation of an investigation committee under Law Minister Raja Basharat. Provincial Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid, IG police and additional chief secretary interior are also part of the committee. The committee will investigate the incident and submit the report to the chief minister.
Following the attack, the interior ministry deployed Rangers across important locations in the city. According to the ministry, 10 platoons and two companies of the paramilitary forces have been deployed in the city.
The interior ministry said that one platoon will be deployed at the Governor House while another will be stationed in the area surrounding Lahore GOR. The rest of the platoons, one each, will be deployed at the GPO Chowk Mall Road, Punjab Assembly, Supreme Court Registry, Lahore High Court, Civil Secretariat, Aiwan-e-Adal, IGP office. One platoon will also be deployed at the PIC.
The interior ministry said that two companies will be present in the city as a reserve force.