Gwadar arrests fail to restore calm

January 15, 2023

Police action against Haq Do Tehreek continues

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aulana Hidayatur Rehman, the founder and main leader of Gwadar’s Haq Do Tehreek was arrested on Friday. The police were also reported to be looking for some of his supporters accused of violent unrest. According to some reports nearly 100 people have been arrested so far in connection with the HDT agitation.

Police had first used force in the last week of December after negotiations with the sit-in leaders ended in a stalemate. Authorities had then claimed they had to act to break the protest as those had turned violent. They said a policeman was shot by unidentified assailants.

An FIR was then lodged among others against Rehman on charges of “murder, attempted murder and inciting violence during protests.” On Friday, Rehman was arrested after an appearance in a local courted.

The Balochistan Bar Council has condemned the arrest and called for a province-wide suspension of court work on Saturday.

The police action to break the unlawful assembly in late December had followed the imposition of Section 144 prohibiting public gatherings and protest demonstrations for a month. The authorities had also suspended internet services for ten days and mobile phone services were disrupted.

Rehman had condemned the action and described the suspension of internet services as an attempt by the administration and the police to silence HDT supporters and suppress the movement.

Amnesty International had criticised the police action and called on the government to reinstate people’s fundamental freedoms. It had also voiced concern that “the internet ban and emergency law will serve as a springboard for further actions infringing on fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, right to personal security and freedom from arbitrary detention.”

The Haq Do Tehreek had started as a civil rights movement. It came to limelight in December 2021 when thousands of men, women and children staged a 32-day peaceful sit-in to voice their reservations and fears about the future of the port city.

Demands include a ban on illegal fishing, provision of basic amenities and the removal of restrictions on border trade with Iran.

The movement presented a charter of demands to the government. The key demands included an end to illegal fishing, the establishment of a public university and the provision of basic amenities like water supply. The demands also included the removal of restrictions on border trade with Iran, a reduction in the number of check posts in the area and the release of missing Baloch persons.

The 42-point rights agenda became quite popular and many fishermen, traders and civil society activists joined the sit-in. Once the movement gained momentum, the government held talks with its leaders and an agreement was reached. The sit-in concluded with reassurances from the provincial government after a round of negotiations. In the local government polls in the summer of 2022, the HDT won 28 out of the 34 seats in Gwadar.

During the fall of 2022, HDT claimed that the government had not done enough to fulfill its promises. A slew of fresh protests culminated in the latest sit-in blocking the Gwadar Expressway. The protestors demanded that the provincial government keep its side of the bargain.

The government offered talks but by the end of December, the negotiations had hit a stalemate. The authorities then used force to remove the HDT workers from the protest site. There was a baton charged and most of the HDT central committee members were arrested.

On Wednesday, the HDT chairman went live on Facebook to accuse the Gwadar administration of discrimination against HDT workers. He claimed that the police had raided the houses of some councillors and beaten up elderly women.

Border trade and fishing are the two main sources of livelihood for the people of Gwadar.

Bashir Hot, a member of the HDT central committee told The News on Sunday said the administration collects a fee from every boat taking to the sea and every vehicle approaching the border. The collection, he said, runs into hundreds of thousands of rupee a week and amounts to an unfair rent. He accused the district administration, the local MPA, the MNA and the chief minister as well as security personnel of complicity.

Jaffar Khan Kakar is a freelance journalist. He tweets Jaffar_Journo

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