HYDERABAD/ KARACHI: Amid confusion about whether Youm-e-Ali processions were permitted in Sindh, as many as 200 participants were arrested Friday for violating standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Sindh government, which had earlier imposed a ban on religious congregations and processions, reportedly later marginally relaxed its restrictions on the occasion, though on the condition that all participants would properly follow all precautionary instructions. The relaxation was said to be on the request of Shia leaders, who gave assurances that all SOPs would be followed and the number of participants would be limited.
Processions with thousands of participants were carried out in the provincial capital and other districts of the province amid tight security, with some processions, such as those in Shikarpur and Jacobabad, meeting opposition from the police.
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In Karachi, police and Rangers personnel were deployed along the route of the procession from Nishtar Park to Kharadar, while roads were blocked with containers and barriers.
Clothed in black, the mourners shouted slogans and recited tazia as the procession moved to its destination. Most among them were seen wearing masks, though little attention was paid to maintaining social distance.
Consequently, as the mourners dispersed, the police arrested some participants and registered FIRs against them at the Soldier Bazaar, Preedy and Frere police stations for violating pandemic SOPs.
According to Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) spokesperson, over 200 people have been arrested in Karachi, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Larkana and other districts of Sindh.
"By arresting them, the government has betrayed us," he claimed.
Also protesting the arrests, Shia leader Allama Baqar Abbas Zaidi accused the provincial government of "creating a law and order situation." He alleged that the police had arrested and tortured even those who were following the SOPs, warning that their patience should not be tested.
Zaidi demanded the withdrawal of all cases registered against the procession's participants and their release.
He further questioned the authorities, particularly the Sindh government, about the grounds on which the arrests were carried out when the prime minister and president had given permission for the processions.
Meanwhile, MWM leader Asif Safvi warned of a protest outside the CM House if those arrested were not released.
On the other hand, police sources claimed that procession participants had been arrested for violating Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, a senior police official, who was also deployed to provide security to the main procession in Karachi, said Shia leaders had already been warned of arrests in case of SOPs violations. "We are now waiting for orders from higher authorities to release the arrested," he added.
Controversy in Hyderabad
In Hyderabad, meanwhile, deputy commissioner Fuad Ghaffar Soomro had issued a statement late on Thursday, claiming that no organisations had been granted permission for processions. Despite this, separate processions were taken out, while the police appeared to be providing them with security.
Some mourners, however, claimed that the police had initially baton charged the crowds, but stopped when the number of participants increased.
Soomro told The Express Tribune that he had neither been approached for permission nor had he granted it.
However, Sattar Dars, a spokesperson of the Anjuman-e-Imamia, which organises the main procession in Hyderabad, claimed that they had received permission from the SSP for a limited procession with 175 approved participants. "However, past Thursday midnight, our delegation was called for another meeting and was told that due to certain pressures and threats, permission had been withdrawn," he added.
The delegation was later allowed to arrange a limited procession in the premises of Qadam Gah, while the Anjuman-e-Imamia issued a press release stating that they were cancelling their traditional procession.
The Hyderabad SSP did not respond to questions about the meeting or the permission he had reportedly granted.