Balochistan government spokesperson Liaquat Shahwani on Wednesday said that students who were taken into custody in Quetta were detained over a violation of COVID-19 safety measures and would be released "soon".
Shahwani’s comments came after PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari strongly condemned the arrest of the students.
"To protest peacefully is a constitutionally protected right [...] Shutting out voices and high handedness has become a new normal under this regime," wrote Bilawal, demanding the students' release.
Amnesty International also reacted to the detention of students and demanded their release.
The students, earlier in the day, were protesting against a lack of internet accessibility and infrastructure for online classes which have commenced in the wake of the closure of educational institutions due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Shahwani, responding to the criticism, announced that in the wake of COVID-19 public gatherings had been banned.
"Students haven't been denied this right (to freedom of speech) but temporarily detained in violation of 144 and will be released soon," he said.
PML-N Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, reacting to the development, said that students were the country's assets and questioned the use of "brutal force" against them.
Later in the day, Balochistan chief minister Jam Kamal Khan shot down reports that the government gave out orders for the arrest of the students.
"A fight broke out between the police and the students," he said, in reference to reports over the use of force against students.
Separately, the governor of Balochistan convened a meeting of the province’s vice-chancellors to discuss the situation arising due to COVID-19, online classes, and the issues faced by students.
“Coronavirus should be taken seriously and safety measures must be enforced to curb it,” he said, adding: "Online classes were initiated in light of Higher Education Commission’s policy.”
The governor directed the vice chancellors to submit a detailed report over online classes. “The problems arising due to online classes should be resolves immediately,” he said.
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