Hundreds of JI supporters turn out to press for justice for 3 missing men

Present them in court and charge them legally, say leaders.

Saba Imtiaz January 14, 2012

KARACHI: “This is a peaceful protest,” announced a Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) worker over the microphone to the dozens gathered on II Chundrigar Road on Friday afternoon. As he spoke, a young activist spray-painted an anti-America slogan on a wall, while another looked on approvingly.

As with recent protests, at this one too came calls for a revolution that emanated from the makeshift stage tacked on to a pick-up truck, but with a caveat: “Inquilab, inquilab… Islami inquilab”.

The Jamaat-e-Islami sit-in was the latest in a series of protests highlighting the enforced disappearances of three men – Usama and Ajmal Waheed and Maaz Farooqui - allegedly carried out by the security agencies.

As JI leaders chanted popular slogans and recited poems, ‘order’ was maintained by its younger members from the student wings, who wielded sticks and ensured the men stayed in their rows. “I’m from the Tarbiati Naujawan,” explained Mohammad Nasir. “There are about 85 of us here. Our job is to ensure peace.” A contingent of police with riot gear was nonetheless stationed at the spot, which reportedly falls in the designated ‘Red Zone’ area where rallies are off limits.

Last Friday, a Peoples Amn Committee rally was baton-charged and tear-gassed after protestors tried to make their way to Bilawal House, the president’s residence. But JI’s young workers were not concerned. “You can see this is a peaceful protest,” said Saqib Khalil.

JI flags were turned into bandannas by many of the attendees, while others used it as niqaab-esque masks while they brandished sticks. Khalil’s calculated explanation was: “They are covering their faces in the event tear gas shells are fired. The bare sticks are just to hold.”

Protesters had been told to bring copies of the Holy Quran and prayer mats to prepare for a long afternoon ahead. They sat on the prayer mats and held the holy book aloft, while others quietly read.

JI secretary general Liaquat Baloch and the party’s Karachi head Mohammad Hussain Mahenti were at the sit-in, near the police headquarters, along with the families of those who have allegedly been taken into the custody of security agencies.

Office workers watched from the pavement, windows and from a level of the National Bank of Pakistan building as the protesters filled up a stretch of the street. “We’re just here on our lunch break,” said one man. “It shouldn’t be that much of an issue to get out of work.”

Usaid Waheed, the son of Ajmal Waheed, who disappeared from the Karachi airport along with his brother said, “Of course people are inconvenienced, but do they not see our suffering?”  Ajmal was allegedly abducted as he landed in Karachi with his younger brother Usama, who had recently been released from Adiala jail. Usama had been charged in a number of high-profile terrorism cases.

The police have assured the Waheed family that it is investigating the case. “My father was taken away from the airport. Only the agencies can pull that off there,” he told The Express Tribune.

JI’s Liaquat Baloch said, “Our demand from the government and the security agencies is that they need to release these men. If there are any cases against them, then they should present the evidence in court and see if they can prove their guilt. They should be dealt with according to the constitution. This government keeps speaking of fundamental rights. If they can sack the defence secretary, can they not arrange for people to be released? In principle, aren’t intelligence agencies answerable to the government?”

When reminded that principles and practice were often very different things in Pakistan, Baloch said, “Well then, if the government is not capable of this, then what right does it have to stay in government?”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2012.


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