LAHORE, Aug 24: Punjab police on Saturday thrashed and arrested Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Punjab leaders and workers and ransacked a token hunger strike camp set up on The Mall, in front of Punjab Assembly.
The PTI activists had gathered to register their protest against the alleged rigging in by-election – particularly in PP-150.
Dozens of PTI protesters were released after about an hour on the instructions of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
The PTI leadership including chairman Imran Khan has strongly criticised police action against peaceful protesters. The party’s Punjab leadership has given a protest call all over the province on Monday (tomorrow) against rigging in elections and “police highhandedness”.
The police had pounced on the PTI’s hunger strike camp on the pretext of imposition of Section 144 that prohibits public gathering or rally on The Mall. Police officials said they could not allow anybody to block The Mall and create hindrance in traffic flow.
A heavy police contingent already deployed on the road arrested PTI Punjab President Ejaz Chaudhry, Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed, PTI PP-150 candidate Mehr Wajid Azeem, MPAs Mian Aslam Iqbal, Saadia Suhail and Dr Nausheen Hamid, Andaleeb Abbas, Hammad Azhar and other workers and took them to Mughalpura police station.
Police baton-charged the protesters and bundled them into police vans. Police also dragged party leaders and workers on the road as some of them tried to resist. Women police also showed their muscles as they dragged and threw PTI women leaders in vans. Police also pushed a number of PTI workers from Faisal Chowk to Alhamra Hall.
DIG (Operations) Muhammad Tahir Rai said the police had to take action against the PTI activists because they insisted that they would block the road. “Some of the PTI `emotional’ youth members challenged the police that they would block the road and police had no option except to arrest them,” he said.
He admitted that policemen dragged and bundled the protesters into police vans and added that PTI leader Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed was not arrested and he voluntarily joined his arrested workers and courted arrest.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, in the meanwhile, took notice of the arrest of PTI activists and ordered their immediate release. The protesters were released within an hour of their arrest. The chief minister, however, said no one could be allowed, on the pretext of protest, to create hindrance in smooth traffic flow.
Soon after release from police stations, the PTI workers and leaders led by provincial president Ejaz Chaudhry returned to the token hunger strike camp which lasted till 10pm.
The PTI workers then did not try to block the road. The protesters sat in the camp and chanted slogans against the government as well as police force.
Talking to Dawn, provincial president Mr Chaudhry said the PTI had continuously been protesting against rigging by the PML-N since the May 11 general elections. He said the PTI also produced voluminous White Paper and produced evidences of rigging. He alleged that the PML-N government now rigged the by-election on Aug 22 particularly in PP-150, where PTI candidate Mehr Wajid Azeem was defeated by a close margin. He said the PTI applied to the returning officer for vote re-count but the request was declined. “No one is taking notice of the massive rigging, complaints and evidences being produced at all forums. We were left with no option but to protest peacefully by observing token hunger strike,” Mr Chaudhry said.
Late in the night, Mr Chaudhry said the PTI Punjab would stage protest demonstrations and sit-ins at all district headquarters as well as at Faisal Chowk on Monday at 3pm against rigging in elections, price hike and “police brutality”.
According to a news release issued by PTI central information office, chairman Imran Khan, vice-chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, secretary-general Pervez Khattak and others said the police action against peaceful protesters had exposed the Punjab government. The party leaders said it was the constitutional and democratic right of every citizen to hold peaceful protest against wrongdoings. “The police action has exposed PML-N government’s dictatorial face,” Imran Khan said.
The PTI leadership said the Punjab government had used its force against their workers while refusing their rightful demand for recount of votes polled in PP-150 on Aug 22.
Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed said the PTI would continue with its protests till the recount of votes in PP-150. He said the hunger strike camp would also continue in front of the Punjab Assembly. He said PTI candidate Mehr Wajid Azeem was winning with 2,000 votes but the returning officer declared PML-N candidate as winner.
Mr Rasheed demanded that the chief minister should take notice of the torture of PTI workers, hold an inquiry and punish those responsible.