Protests against protest: Rights activists commemorating Taseer’s death attacked

‘They used abusive language against us and called us kafirs', says Civil Society Network president

Hassan Naqvi January 06, 2015
‘They used abusive language against us and called us kafirs', says Civil Society Network president. PHOTO:NNI

LAHORE: A group of 10 baton-wielding men attacked a gathering of civil society members who were commemorating Salmaan Taseer’s death anniversary at the Liberty Roundabout on Sunday evening. They snatched and tore up pictures of Taseer and placards the activists were carrying. The men also beat up participants of the vigil.    

News of the attack spread immediately and several other civil rights activists arrived at the roundabout to protest against the attack. They vowed to continue their struggle against “religious fundamentalism”.

Operations DIG Dr Haider Ashraf said they had conducted raids in various parts of the city and had taken 35 people into custody. “We will solve the case soon.” A senior CIA official said that they had taken 19 people belonging to various banned outfits into custody. An FIR has been registered against unidentified suspects under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and Section 363 of the Pakistan Penal Code (kidnapping) at the Gulberg police station.

Centre for Human Rights Education Director Samson Salamat said they had been holding a peaceful demonstration in remembrance of Taseer, who was shot dead by his security guard in 2011.

Civil Society Network president Abdullah Malik, who was part of the vigil, said the attackers had carried guns and knives. He said they had injured several demonstrators. “They used abusive language against us and called us kafirs who must be killed.” He said they had also attacked camerapersons and reporters of various TV channels who were reporting the incident.

A senior police official said while some of the protestors claimed that the attackers had knives and guns. The crime scene footage showed that they had neither. “Beating up people is a crime nonetheless. We will nab the criminals,” he said. The police official said they were conducting raids at various areas in the city and hoped to arrest all the attackers. Malik said they had called the police immediately but the attackers had fled as police watched.

Salamat, Malik, Jugnu Mohsin, Farooq Tariq, Madeeha Gohar, and Zafar Malik spoke to the protesters and demanded that the attackers be arrested.

Salamat said, “Terrorists cannot stop our struggle for a peaceful Pakistan... We will not give into Talibanisation or religious extremism.”

Malik said that the attack pointed to a clear failure of the government which claimed to fight terrorism and extremism. The incident did not take place in a remote area, he said. “It happened here at the Liberty Roundabout in the presence of the police who were unable to watch the attackers.”

Peace and tolerance

Malik announced a protest demonstration for Monday at 1pm. The rally on Monday was held at The Mall under the umbrella of Peace and Tolerance Partnership (an alliance of civil society organisations and activists working for peace and tolerance).

Hundreds of peace activists marched on The Mall to demand the elimination of terrorism and religious extremism for a peaceful Pakistan.

The rally was led by Salamat, Malik, SPO regional head Salman Abid, Zafar Malik of Aghaz Foundation and Umeed Jawan Programme, and Amna Malik of Armaan Foundation.

Activists Saeeda Diep, Farooq Tariq, Aima Mehmood, Umm-i-Laila, Irfan Mufti, Chaudhry Khurshid Ahmed, Shazia Shaheen, Adoo Ram, Shazia Bashir, Komal Patras, Suba Saroya Advocate, Rashid Lodhi Advocate, and former MPAs Mian Imran Masood and Amna Ulfat participated in the rally.

The participants of the rally carried placards and banners and shouted slogans to demand stern action to save Pakistan from terrorists.  “Enough is enough” the participants said.

Salamat demanded a comprehensive border-security plan to curb foreign elements trying to use Pakistan as a launch pad for terrorist activity. He said the ban on hate speech must be implemented in letter and spirit.

Abdullah Malik said peace could not be achieved without “de-weaponisation” of the society. “We need an effective policy in this regard... A very heavy responsibility rests on the shoulders of political stakeholders.”

Khurshid Ahmed, a labour union leader, said people from all walks of life had suffered from terrorism. “Even our worship places aren’t safe.” He said the government, military and all other stake-holders must do whatever it took to eliminate extremism.

Protesting arrest 

Separately, Yateem Khana Chowk and Multan Road were blocked for traffic since 11am on Monday after hundreds of people gathered there to protest the arrest of Khadim Hussain, one of the main suspects accused of attacking a group of civil rights activists commemorating the death anniversary of Salmaan Taseer. The protest was in force till the filing of this report.

Hussain was one of the 35 people that police took into custody after 10 people attacked human rights activists who gathered at Liberty Roundabout on Sunday at 5pm for a candle vigil to commemorate Taseer’s fourth death anniversary.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2015.


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