Police resorted to tear-gas shelling and baton-charging demonstrators Monday who had gathered at D-Chowk to protest against enforced disappearances.
Law enforcers arrested 12 protesters, including Amina Masood Janjua, a prominent activist working for the release of missing persons after her husband ‘disappeared’ as well. Amina, who was leading the demonstration under the banner of her organisation, the Defence of Human Rights and Public Service Trust, was violently dragged into a police van. Other female demonstrators, who tried to protect her, were also manhandled and hurt.
The trust had staged a similar protest at D-Chowk on March 27 and the demonstrators were stopped by police and Anti-Terrorist Squad personnel from reaching the Parliament House even then, after which the organisation had announced the April 28 demonstration.
A couple of hours later, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a statement, expressed anger at the police brutality and ordered the immediate release of all detained protesters. PM Nawaz said peaceful protest is the democratic right of every Pakistani and strict action will be taken against the officers responsible for manhandling the demonstrators.
The protesters staged a sit-in at D-Chowk, awaiting the release of their arrested fellow demonstrators. However, later in the evening, the interior ministry spokesperson said the arrested demonstrators were released on the orders of the prime minister.
According to police, around 5:45pm, some protesters, who were assembled at Jinnah Avenue, tried to move past the barriers placed at D-Chowk to prevent entry into the Red Zone towards the Parliament House building.
The protesters, who included relatives of missing persons from different parts of the country, denied the police’s claim and said they were attacked without any reason.
Women police constables dragged and beat up female demonstrators, who were mostly sitting peacefully on a greenbelt, according to eyewitnesses. Demonstrators alleged that police also fired rubber bullets and confiscated the supplies they had brought along. They also baton-charged the protesting men, some of whom fought back.
Two policewomen, four policemen and a few dozen protesters were injured during the scuffle, according to witnesses and police and rescue officials.
The police also tried to prevent the media from covering the brutality. Three journalists, including an Aaj TV cameraman, were injured as the police tried to confiscate their cameras. Later, journalists staged a protest against the police at D-Chowk around 7pm.
After the initial investigation, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar issued orders to suspend Assistant Superintendent Police (ASP) Secretariat Irum Abbasi and ASP City Yasir Afridi.
Both officials were found responsible for allowing the police to manhandle the demonstrators. Nisar also directed Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Mujahid Sherdil to conduct a judicial inquiry about the incident.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2014.
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