KARACHI, Nov 20: The police arrested more than 100 journalists on Tuesday after they baton-charged the newsmen’s peaceful procession towards the Governor’s House from the Karachi Press Club organized to express concern against media curbs a day after the government decided to release those arrested for defying emergency rule.

However, late on Tuesday night the police released the arrested journalists. An official said the journalists were released after Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad personally got involved in the matter.

“The total number of released journalists is 110,” said the official. “The police had already released more than a dozen female journalists a couple of hours after their arrests.”

However, he said an FIR (182/2007) had been registered against the protesting journalists by the Frere police for a law and order violation.

“The case has been registered under Sections 147, 148 and 149 of the Pakistan Penal Code,” he added. These sections define offences of rioting, rioting with a deadly weapon and every member of an unlawful assembly guilty of an offence committed in prosecution of a common object.

Earlier, hundreds of police officers deployed outside the Karachi Press Club cordoned off all link roads and obstructed hundreds of journalists from advancing before unleashing the baton charge, which left more than half a dozen members of the media fraternity injured.

The police manhandled leaders of the community and dragged senior journalists before putting them into waiting police vans and hauling them off to different police stations.

The protesting journalists began the march towards the Governor’s House at around 3.15pm. Though they faced serious resistance from the police officials, backed by a heavy Rangers’ contingent, they insisted on holding the planned rally, which had earlier been allowed to go ahead by the authorities.

“Earlier, we got the message from the Governor’s House that we would be allowed access to it. But minutes before our rally there was an absolutely different message,” Shamim-ur-Rahman, President of the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ), told Dawn from the Darakhsan police station where he was held.

He condemned the police action and said the struggle would continue until the government removed the ban on certain television channels and lifted the curbs against the journalists’ community.

The police blocked both ends of Sarwar Shaheed Road by parking mobile vans and started picking up journalists one by one after the baton charge. The brutal police action against peaceful protesters sparked anger among the media fraternity and prompted dozens of journalists to court arrest.

The arrested included President of the Karachi Press Club Sabihuddin Ghausi, and many KPC’s office-bearers. KUJ President Shamim-ur-Rahman was arrested after being brutalised in the baton charge. The arrested persons were moved to the Frere, Clifton, Darakhshan and Docks police stations.

The police authorities avoided keeping the arrested journalists in police stations near the press club and instead detained them far from their offices, which are mainly located in the South Zone of the police system.

“Actually, we had orders from the higher ranks to keep them [the journalists] away to avoid further protests in front of the police stations, which are located near their offices” said an official, who declined to be named.

However, he said the journalists were allowed to meet their guests in different police stations. But a large number of journalists were denied access to the Docks police station when they gathered outside to meet their incarcerated colleagues.

Eyewitnesses said a few policemen also tried to enter the Karachi Press Club but later dropped that idea after journalists inside the club started chanting slogans.

The 30-mintue episode ended at around 3.45pm, which caused traffic jams on Sarwar Shaheed Road, Maulana Deen Mohammad Wafai Road, I.I. Chundrigar Road and Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road.

The police afterwards picked up four journalists being initially held in two different police stations and took them to Shershah police station where they were informed that police high-ups had ordered their jail custody under the Maintenance of Public Order ordinance.

“We were kept in the Shershah police station for almost an hour before being released on the order of the Sindh governor,” said one of the four journalists who were taken to the Shershah police station.

The four journalists were A.H. Khanzada from DawnNews, Moosa Kaleem from Herald, Asghar Umer from Daily Express and Ghulam Mustafa from GeoNews.

Breaking the law

The police high-ups justified their actions against the media fraternity which, they believed, had violated the law.

“There is no question about not registering the FIRs,” said the Capital City Police Officer, Azhar Ali Farooqi. “The police moved in to protect the law and would do the same again if they are challenged in the future.”He said the police were bound to regulate the law and would do its job without considering the community or its influence. “The journalists actually insisted on violating the law and were arrested after they declined to put off their plans,” said the CCPO.

His comments, however, showed a lack of coordination between the administration and the newly-appointed caretaker provincial government, which denied any legal action would be initiated against the arrested journalists.

“I am coordinating with the people concerned and would not allow a case against any journalist,” said Brigadier (retd) Akhtar Zamin, the provincial home minister in the caretaker cabinet.

Widespread condemnation

Members of the KUJ Dawn Unit strongly condemned the detention, manhandling and ruthless thrashing of journalists at the hands of the police and law-enforcing agencies outside the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday.

“We reiterate the resolve to lift restrictions on the media instantaneously and let journalists do their jobs without official hindrances, restore civil liberties and reinstate honourable judges of the Supreme Court who refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitution Order, which we demand to be repealed forthwith,” said a statement.

Various civil society groups, including the People’s Resistance, condemned the brutal police action in which several journalists, including women, were injured. Members of the Pakistan Bar Council, Sindh High Court Bar Association, as well as representatives of the All Pakistan Trade Unions’ Organisation and the Pakistan Medical Association, slated the use of state force against the media persons.

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