The brutality meted out to protestors in Karachi was jarring
ection 144 was invoked last week when four women gathered outside the Karachi Press Club to question the allegedly extrajudicial detention of their loved ones. They were stopped as soon as they started walking towards the Sindh Assembly building. That is, until Anis Haroon, a National Commission for Human Rights member, told police that it takes an assembly of five to violate the law.
On June 13, within days of the aforementioned incident, some 30 more people were picked up for approaching the Sindh Assembly building. They included women carrying infants and were protesting the extrajudicial disappearance among others of two Baloch students, Doda Ellahi and Gamshad Baloch, allegedly picked up from the city by law enforcement in the wake of the Karachi University bomb blast who have since been released by the Counter Terrorism Department.
Unnecessary force was used as the protestors were dragged from into police vans, leading to minor injuries. Anis Haroon told The News on Sunday that Karachi South DIG Sharjil Kharal confessed to her that he was ashamed of how the police had treated peaceful protestors.
Recalling her negotiations with the police ahead of the protesters’ release, Haroon says, “When I saw these videos of Amna Baloch and other women being tugged into police vans, I immediately called DIG Kharal. He didn’t say he would stop this but he acknowledged that something terrible had happened.”
Haroon, who in her own words, spent “more than half of my life as a rights activist before holding public office,” expressed her dismay at the fact that such draconian laws were still in place to terrorise the masses.
“You want to protest in a democratic state, you go and do it. The police are supposed to, in fact, protect you,” she says. She says the colonial laws remain in place to harass and humiliate people.
“Why are they so desperate to deter people?” asks Haroon.
When The News on Sunday reached out to DIG Kharal, he did not deny the exchange with Haroon. However, he withheld his comment regarding the overall situation, saying only that an inquiry has been ordered and that he will await the findings.
Amna Baloch, whose footage of being manhandled by police stirred the media and civil society into action, says a senior police official hurled misogynistic remarks at her and a fellow protester, Naghma Iqtidar, before they were piled into police vehicles.
“They told us that they resorted to violence because of our supposed vulgarity and immorality”.
“They told us that they resorted to violence because of our supposed vulgarity and immorality,” says Amna. Naghma confirms this statement.
The personnel who made these remarks is SHO Sajjad Khan of Preedy Police Station. He denied the allegations and says that it is propaganda, even if his superiors confirm it. “Baloch women are my sisters and Baloch men my brothers,” he claims, adding that he respected their right to protest but it was only after the ‘agitation’ by the protestors that action had to be taken.
Murtaza Wahab, the Sindh government spokesperson, however, criticised the police action.
Amna Baloch said students from Balochistan came to Karachi on account of the city’s cosmopolitan reputation and expected to be safer here than many parts of Balochistan. “They come to study here in peace and improved their lives. Unfortunately, things are changing for the worse even here,” she said.
“Baloch people are being reduced to the stereotype of subversive activities. I have been told by a number of Baloch girl students that they feel that wearing their traditional dresses now makes them a target” said Amna Baloch, who also works for Baloch Yakjehti [Solidarity] Committee, Karachi.
“We had been crying foul over the arrest and detention of Gamshad and Doda but our protest was dismissed. The police used brute force against them, although they were released later. What does that prove?” she said.
Asked for his comments, Murtaza Wahab, the Sindh government spokesman, said the matter was under investigation. He said the government would not defend or protect police highhandedness. He said the inquiry findings will be taken seriously. He also said the current laws on crowd control are reasonable, but police sometimes show a lack of compassion in dealing with protesting citizens.
HRCP Sindh vice-president Asad Iqbal Butt says the Sindh government would not have dared use force against any of the fire-brand clerics for their blatant disregard for law and human rights. “There would be no Section 144 measures when those looked justifiable,” says Butt.
“The Baloch families and civil society were only holding placards and peacefully waiting for the authorities to reach out to them as promised. Instead, the police thrashed them, dragged them and detained them… There were mothers, pregnant women, children and university students,” he says.
The writer is a journalist who covers human rights and social issues. He can be reached on Twitter at @mhunainameen