22 July, 2014 / Ramazan 23, 1435

KARACHI, May 13: The Sindh government on Monday banned rallies, demonstrations and public gatherings across the province for an indefinite period in a move believed to counter protests and sit-ins in different cities with Karachi leading the trend where a number of parties with their hundreds of workers and supporters took to the streets on Monday evening against alleged rigging in the May 11 polls.

As the parties defied the fresh restriction by the caretaker administration and decided to continue with their planned protest demonstrations and sit-ins in different districts, human rights activists and leaders of the legal fraternity did not buy the authorities’ theory that the ban was placed to protect the life and property of the common people.

“The ban has been placed under Section 144 of the criminal procedure code that disallows rallies, public gathering or any kind of demonstration,” said Sharfuddin Memon, special assistant to the Sindh chief minister on home affairs.

“The protests initiated by different political parties have compelled the security administration to take this step. We have witnessed that these protests and sit-ins are turning into mob reaction and like Karachi other parts of Sindh are also facing security issues for the same reason.”

So, he said, the decision was taken only to protect the people’s life and prevent any ‘untoward situation’ that was always feared amid scattered protests and sit-ins.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf supporters on Sunday evening staged a demonstration at the Teen Talwar roundabout in Clifton protesting against what they described as massive rigging during the May 11 vote. They said they were particularly piqued by irregularities committed in NA-250, where the Election Commission of Pakistan has ordered repolling in over 40 polling stations.

While others across Sindh held news conferences about allegations of rigging and poured scorn on the Pakistan Peoples Party, PTI supporters took to social media — particularly Twitter — to vent their anger on the political party they accused of rigging in Karachi and uploaded vote rigging videos and photographs.

The move convinced other parties as well when hundreds of supporters of the Jamaat-i-Islami and Pakistan Muslim League also joined the PTI-launched protest, which by sunset had turned into a big show.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain’s address to his workers warning the Teen Talwar protesters that they could be taken to task for that move added fuel to the fire and hundreds of participants finally dispersed but with a plan to gather again on Monday in different districts to lodge their protest.Before dawn broke, the JI and religious parties alliance Muttahida Deeni Mahaz also announced holding of protest demonstrations and sit-ins with the PTI. But their plans attracted strong reaction from the caretaker administration which came up with a counter move in the second half of the day.

“The move in haste by the caretaker government seems like a strike against the people’s right to freedom of speech,” former chief of the Supreme Court Bar Association Yasin Azad said. “Not a single report of violence or untoward incident has been reported in Karachi protests, which are setting a pure democratic and positive precedent.”

He said that if any individual or political party felt that their rights were being violated, they could raise their voice against that. The government could only move against protesters when there was damage to people’s life and property.

“But in these protests there was nothing like that. It’s so unfortunate that through these you are conveying that one has no right to raise one’s voice against any exploitation or violation. The laws are made to protect people’s basic right, not to harass them when they make a demand for it,” said Mr Azad.

The government move also came as a surprise to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s chairperson Zohra Yusuf, but she urged the protesting parties to move forward after the landmark 2013 vote so that their aggressiveness did not undermine the democratic process.

“We strongly feel that the government move to ban rallies and protest demonstrations is not justified and is against the spirit of democratic norms,” she said. “But at the same time I think that the parties should move forward from here when the Election Commission of Pakistan has already taken notice of and ordered repeal of polling in certain polling stations of NA-250. These elections mean a lot to the country. So one should not go to the extent that it makes a dent in the whole exercise which would definitely affect the democratic process negatively.”

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