KARACHI: At least three passenger vehicles were set on fire on Tuesday evening when a heavy police contingent tried to stop the participants of a rally organised by the Shia Action Committee (SAC) to stop them from going towards the office of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Sharae Faisal. They were protesting against the ban on a Shia website which was blocked recently by the PTA.
The participants gathered at the Numaish Chowrangi but were stopped by the police as they advanced towards the PTA office. When the protesters refused to back down and, according to witnesses, fired in the air, the police retaliated with teargas shells and fired shot in the air. Panic and chaos ensued in the rally and the adjoining areas as three passenger buses were set ablaze in Soldier Bazaar No 3. Four protesters, including a girl and three young men, were wounded in police shelling. MA Jinnah Road was blocked for almost three hours. Four men were also detained for rioting.
The rally participants claim that Shia residents of Soldier Bazaar arrived at Numaish Chowrangi after the teargas shells fell at Imambargah Shah-e-Khurasan at Numaish Chowrangi.
They said that there are several websites which are being run by banned organisations but the PTA only blocked their website. According to them, the police were responsible for the violence in the rally since they were the ones who fired teargas shells.
On the other hand, the police said that rally participants had been notified earlier that they would not be allowed to go to the PTA office. The participants, most of whom were youngsters, removed the blockades and went on to protest. The police claimed that the protesters pelted them with stones and burnt tires. They were later joined by another group.
The rally dispersed after top police officials ensured the protesters of their full cooperation.
The chief of Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen, Allama Aftab Jaffery, had to come to Numaish Chowrangi and intervene between the police and the protesters.
Maulana Mirza Yousuf Hussain, who led the rally, said that the protest ended after the police ensured him of their full cooperation and release of the detained protesters and vehicles. He said that the police had also promised to allow a delegation of 15 Shia leaders to go to the PTA office and try to persuade them to unblock the website.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2012.