Law enforcers harass Pakistan Fisherfolk officials

Express May 24, 2010

KARACHI: A large number of Rangers and police officials raided the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Secretariat in Ibrahim Hyderi, Bin Qasim Town, early Monday morning, “to harass the local community as well as the PFF staff”, it was stated in a press release issued by the PFF.

The law-enforcement officials arrived in dozens of vehicles and surrounded the office after which they threatened the employees who were coming in to work and tried to stop them from entering the office, said Sami Memon, a spokesperson for the PFF. The fishermen in the area closed their businesses in protest and demanded that the government stop harassing fishermen and the people of the community who have to reach their workplaces on time.

They also expressed their solidarity with the people of Chashma Goth and protested against the alleged illegal occupation of a graveyard in the neighbourhood, which they claimed had been taken over by the army. A province-wide strike was observed on Monday against the illegal occupation of around 300 acres of land in the area, including an old graveyard. The PFF had called for the strike in protest against the construction of a wall on the graveyard and had appealed to the government to stop the army from constructing a training centre in the area, where these fishermen and their families had been settled for decades.

In an attempt to stop the construction of the centre, the people of the area had earlier protested against the army but were attacked by the police, resulting in the injuries of at least six women and children. Eight villagers had also been arrested in the protest after which the PFF decided to rally against their illegal detentions. Memon said that the people of the area are trying to protect their land and livelihood, which is why they are protesting against the illegal occupation of their graveyard.

“It is the property of the community, and its people are the custodians of this area. They have been living here for generations and nobody from the government has the right to deprive the people of their basic rights,” said Memon. The army had earlier developed the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) by displacing the people of the community residing in several old fishing villages in the area, alleged Memon, adding that they had destroyed the source of income for hundreds of people who were living around the seashore. The same authorities are once again trying to occupy coastal areas and forcing thousands of fishermen to leave their ancestral abodes, which is unfair, Memon argued. “We will defend our villages, resources and livelihoods with the backing of the coastal community. We are ready to give any kind of sacrifice for defending our resources.”

Law-enforcement agencies should use their manpower to protect the innocent people instead of harassing fishermen, Memon concluded. Bin Qasim Town Police Office (TPO) Ashraf Zubair Siddiqui said that the police had conducted the raid to arrest those people who had demolished the wall that was being built by the army in Chashma Goth.

He added, however, that no one was arrested. “We did not harass any one. People are nominated in the FIR after which it is the duty of the police to register cases,” he said. Siddiqui said that the police took five people into judicial remand on the first day of the protest and “will dispose off the case as per its merit”.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 25th, 2010.