The government must take notice of police excesses in Okara, Chak 4/4L Union Council Chairman Noor Nabi said at a press conference at the Lahore Press Club on Monday.
Nabi was joined by former Supreme Court Bar Association president Asma Jahangir, Hussain Naqi of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Awami Workers Party (AWP) general secretary Farooq Tariq and Chaudhry Sajjad Ahmed, the brother of Anjuman-i-Mazareen Punjab (AMP) general secretary Mehr Sattar who taken into custody on Saturday. The press conference had been called by the AWP following police action on peasants of Okara’s 4/4L farms on Sunday and Sattar’s arrest.
Nabi said that the organisation had lost 11 activists in confrontations with the police since the AMP was formed 15 years ago. “Not a single policeman or official has ever been harmed by us. The police action against us is not about maintaining peace and security, but about victimising the AMP to render our concerns invisible.”
Jahangir said when protesters, led by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, had staged a sit-in in front of the parliament for more than two months, no armoured personnel carriers were called in to disband the protesters. “The military, the federal and the provincial governments must clarify their position regarding the suppression of protesting peasants in Okara. What is the criteria being used to determine legitimate threats to national security and law and order?” she said.
The right to assembly is guaranteed in the Constitution, said Jahangir. “The government must answer why a group formed to lobby for the rights of peasants has been branded a terrorist group. The AMP represents more than 100,000 peasants who work and live on government-owned land. How did a peasant convention called for International Peasants’ Day threaten to cause a law and order situation?”
Chaudhry Sajjad Ahmed, brother of AMP leader Mehr Abdul Sattar, said, “When policemen came to take him away, we did not resist. If we were terrorists, we would have brandished guns and fought back. We have put up with many search operations and raids. No one has ever found weapons or any literature that indicates that we are enemies of the state.”
Farooq Tariq said a demonstration was being planned for April 26 in Lahore to express solidarity with the AMP.
Separately, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued a statement slamming the administration’s decision to refuse permission to hold a convention aimed at drawing attention to the long struggle for their right to the land they have been cultivating for decades.
The HRCP said that the Okara district administration’s decision to disallow a planned peasants’ convention appeared to have been aimed at clamping down on dissent and to prevent the peasants from joining hands to raise their issues. The statement said: Employing strong-arm tactics and using the National Action Plan to crack down on the peasants pressing for land rights and a fairer distribution of agricultural resources appears to be aimed at pushing the peasants against the wall for demanding their rights. “The HRCP advises the government against employing harsh and authoritarian actions, and throwing the book at the peasants.”
The Pakistan Peoples Party’s human rights wing also held a demonstration in front of the Press Club on Monday to slam police action against the AMP activists in Okara. Dozens of PPP workers gathered and held up banners and placards and shouted slogans against, what they called police high-handedness.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2016.