Over a dozen journalists and policemen were assaulted as rioters during Ishq-e-Rasool protests besieged Hyderabad Press Club and the roads outside it were turned into a battlefield on Friday.
The exchange of fire and tear-gas shelling, which started more than 75 minutes after the hostilities, sparked at around 4:15 pm and continued for over three hours.
At least six journalists were beaten, dragged and pelted with stones while as many policemen including a DSP and SHO were also roughed up. Two motorcycles, one belonging to a reporter Abdul Qadir and another of cameraman Adnan Zai, were set ablaze while the rioters also ransacked the club’s reception before they were pushed out.
The peaceful protests outside the club, which started in the morning, took an ugly turn in the afternoon. A group of protesters, who came in a rally of a religious group, began by shouting at the journalists, complaining that they are not being given proper coverage. In an instant they began hurling abuses and stones at the reporters, cameramen and photographers standing in and outside the club.
“They were carping that the media was giving coverage to a particular group of protesters and was ignoring them,” said a photographer who was among the first to be hit by a rock inside the club.
The siege forced the journalists to escape from the club by climbing the walls of the adjoining Radio Pakistan and into an alley behind the club. “We are stuck in a cul de sac. The only entrance to the street is blocked by the protesters who are attacking anyone with a camera,” said photographer Farhan Khan before the police action began.
The assailants also charged upon the Express News team. “They hit me with batons, kicked me and dragged me on the footpath,” reporter Furqan Rajput said. “They were shouting that I deserved this because the media is an associate of the enemies of Islam.” Rajput was saved by Sunni Tehreek workers. They protected him until he could enter the club whose main gate was locked. A huge table was placed under it to prevent it from breaking.
The delayed reinforcement from the police as well as the Rangers allowed the situation to get out of hand. The policemen from Cantt, who were on duty outside the club, fought the protesters as they waited for backup.
“Two mobiles from the rangers were on duty at Basant Hall [less than 100 metres away] but they didn’t come until the police controlled the situation,” said Hameedur Rehman, the club’s president. According to him, the Rangers came about three hours late despite directives given by Deputy Commissioner Agha Shahnawaz Babur.
By 7 pm the police ran out of tear-gas shells and it took over half an hour before fresh supplies came.
Information Minister Sharjeel Memon announced that the government would compensate for the damage.
In the evening, the rioters also attacked two wine shops in Saddar.
In Kotri town of Jamshoro district eight people were injured, including five who were shot. They were hurt when protesters tried to force some shops to close.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2012.