KARACHI/HYDERABAD/LAHORE/PESHAWAR: Embittered by this week’s execution of Mumtaz Qadri, supporters of religious parties vented their anger at countrywide protests that turned violent on Friday with the offices of several media organisations coming under assault.
Violence was reported in Lahore, Karachi, Hyderabad and some other cities as the protesters attacked offices of Aaj TV, attacked a DSNG of Express News and ransacked the Hyderabad Press Club, besides manhandling policemen, journalists and cameramen.
The protesters laid siege to the Hyderabad Press Club for around two hours while demonstrating against the hanging of Qadri, who shot dead Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer five years ago.
Around a dozen media workers were beaten up and several others sustained injuries when they tried to escape from the building. Two reporters and a cameraman suffered fractures when they jumped from the first floor of the press club to save their lives. Seven more media professionals were taken to the hospital.
The vandals also burnt the reception and notice boards and broke all flower pots, mirrors and several glass doors inside the press club. “They kept hurling abuse at journalists challenging them to come out of hiding,” said Rashid Leghari, a reporter who hid with many others in one of the rooms.
The protest outside the club was organised by the Sunni Tehreek and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (Owais Noorani group). Two police mobiles were parked outside the club for security but the policemen were also beaten up.
The attacks drew condemnations from the prime minster and several journalist organisations. PM Nawaz Sharif and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid condemned the attack on media offices, terming them ‘tantamount to curbing the freedom of expression’.
The All-Pakistan Newspapers Society condemned the attacks, terming the ransacking of the offices of Aaj TV, Business Recorder, Express, Neo TV, Daily Naee Baat, AbTak and other media outlets an affront against the freedom of press.
Editors for Safety – an organisation of newspaper editors and heads of television channels – also expressed serious concerns, saying neither the government nor the protesters could force news content, according to their whims.
In Lahore, protesters beat up policemen and lawyers, damaged a security check post at the assembly chambers and a DSNG vehicle of a television channel while tearing apart the provincial government’s advertisements along The Mall Road during a rally from Data Darbar to Charing Cross.
In Karachi, protesters attacked the Aaj TV head office near Guru Mandir, drawing widespread criticism from journalists and the government as well. The Electronic Market in Saddar was forcibly shut by the demonstrators. An Express News DSNG van covering the main protest rally on Numaish Chowrangi was also attacked.
Many smaller protests were staged in different parts of the metropolis, including Korangi, Nagan Chowrangi, Nazimabad, Orangi Town, Ittehad Town, Malir and Federal B Area.
Demonstrations also continued for the fifth consecutive day in various parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. In Peshawar and other districts, several rallies were staged after Friday prayers with the banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat joining the street agitations. Rallies were also staged in Charsadda, Timergara, Mansehra, Abbottabad and Shinkiari.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2016.