Scores of stick-wielding activists of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) clashed with policemen in Lahore’s Model Town neighbourhood on Friday after the city and the province of Punjab were virtually sealed off by the authorities.
The clashes broke out when PAT activists attempted to remove large shipping containers that blocked roads and alleyways leading to the Secretariat of Minhajul Quran International.
Pitched battles were also fought in other cities of Punjab when policemen tried to stop PAT workers from travelling to Lahore to attend a ‘Martyrs’ Day’ rally that their party has organised on August 10.
Stick-wielding activists stormed the road near Faisal Town to remove the shipping containers blocking the main entrance to Model Town. A police contingent there first swung their batons at the activists and fired tear gas shells at them. But the police was forced to retreat when PAT workers began throwing stones at them.
PAT activists managed to clear barricades from Jinnah Hospital Chowk. Some of them even snatched weapons and shields from riot policemen. At least seven policemen and at least four PAT activists were wounded in the melee.
However, when the PAT workers returned to the Minhajul Quran Secretariat after removing containers from the roads leading to Model Town, the police acted swiftly and blocked the roads again.
At the Secretariat, where hundreds of PAT workers – including women and children – were present, the scene was highly charged. They said that they would sacrifice their lives but would not budge from the place.
Heavy contingents of police were deployed at all six entry points of Lahore since Friday morning. The police were checking public transport vehicles in an attempt to stop PAT workers coming from other cities from entering Lahore. This caused heavy traffic snarls at the entry points.
DIG Operations Lahore Dr Haider Ashraf said the barricades would not be removed at any cost. An additional contingent of law enforcers has been called in to defuse the situation, he added. The police also started dragnets in different cities and towns of Punjab, triggering clashes between the police and PAT workers. Several cities and towns, including Faisalabad, Sargodha, Khusahab, Bhakkar, Okara, Dipalpur, Cheechawatni, Sheikhupura, Arifwala and Narowal, have been virtually sealed by the police in an attempt to stop PAT workers from travelling to Lahore.
PAT workers set alight the Quaidabad police station in Khushab district Friday night. Official records and furniture were burnt to ashes, while PAT workers allegedly freed 11 accused from the lockup. They overpowered eight police officials, beat them up and kept them hostage for over two hours.
According to officials, 50 buses, carrying PAT activists from Mianwali, Joharabad, Quaidabad and other adjourning areas, were en route to Lahore to participate in the Martyrs Day when the Quaidabad police intercepted the convoy on Bhakkar-Mianwali Road.
The police plucked the drivers from the buses and thrashed them up. Angered by the police action, PAT workers on board the buses attacked the police, forcing them to run for safety. However, the enraged PAT activists chased them into the police station.
While throwing stones some PAT workers forced their way into the police station where they looted the Maal Khana and released 11 accused from the lockup. Before fleeing, they set fire to the police station and damaged elite force vehicles, seven motorcycles and three cars standing outside the police station.
Sheikh Muhammad Zafar, the SHO of Qaidabad police station, told The Express Tribune that they have registered a case against the troublemakers and arsonists and that they would be arrested soon.
Separately, ASI Mumtaz, Muhammad Asad, Ghulam Muhammad, Muhammad Fazal, who went to the Goray Wali area to detain PAT workers, were made hostages by Dr Tahirul Qadri’s supporters and tortured. They were freed after they promised not to participate in any crackdown on PAT workers.
In Sargodha, the police detained nearly three dozen PAT workers while a heavy police contingent has been deputed at Sial Morr, Makhdoom and Salam Interchange to stop PAT workers from going to Lahore.
In Bhakkar, a police contingent conducted a raid in the Daggar Olakh area to detain PAT workers but local residents overpowered the policemen. They were freed after successful negotiations between senior police officials and residents. One PAT worker, who was wounded in the clash, reportedly succumbed to his injuries later in the night.
PAT activists also clashed with the police in several parts of Faisalabad division, including Chiniot City, Chenab Nagar and City Gojra. Over a dozen police officials – including SHO Gojra police station Aftab Siddiqui and ASI Hafiz Ahmad of the Chenab Nagar police station.
Over 100 PAT workers have been detained in all districts of Faisalabad Division, Chiniot, Jhang and Toba Tek Singh, in a crackdown launched Thursday night. The police also searched Minhajul Quran seminaries in Faisalabad division but most of PAT activists reportedly went underground.
The Faisalabad city police officer (CPO), Dr Sohail Tajik, denied any crackdown on PAT workers. “Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of every citizen and every political party,” he said in a statement issued on Friday. However, he added that it was their top priority to ensure the protection of life and property of citizens.
Meanwhile, in Faisalabad, Jhang, Chiniot, Toba Tek Singh and other areas, the police have restricted the movement of public transport, including passenger buses and vans, by placing containers at both the entry and exit points.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2014.