KARACHI: A Pakistani photojournalist working for a French news agency and a policeman were shot at and wounded when a protest by demonstrators belonging to the students’ wing of a religious party near the French consulate in Clifton against controversial caricatures published by a Paris-based satirical magazine turned violent on Friday afternoon, officials said.
There were conflicting claims as to whose bullets left the photographer and the policeman wounded, with the police alleging that armed protesters opened fire while the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba (IJT) — the students’ wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami — claiming that plain-clothes policemen resorted to firing.
“Protesters opened straight fire that left AFP photographer Asif Hassan wounded,” said Karachi-South DIG Barrister Abdul Khalique Shaikh.
However, an IJT representative rejected the charge at a press conference held later at the Karachi Press Club.
The photographer sustained a gunshot wound in the chest and his condition was improving after he underwent an operation at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, said Dr Seemin Jamali, head of the hospital’s emergency department where the wounded men were transported.
She added that another man, Salman, sustained a gunshot wound in the leg while a policeman, Ikram, suffered head injuries caused by some hard and blunt weapon. “Salman is a policeman of the Sindh Reserve Police,” said Clifton SP Fida Hussain.
The DIG said activists of the IJT appeared in two buses at Clifton’s Teen Talwar and tried to proceed towards the French consulate in Bath Island. Senior officers along with the police force present there engaged them in talks.
“It was decided that a delegation of the protesters could go to the French consulate to present their memorandum,” said DIG Shaikh.
Yet some activists bent upon moving towards the consulate crossed the hurdles placed there and as the police tried to stop them, a scuffle broke out. “Someone from the crowd then fired a bullet that hit AFP photographer Asif Hassan,” said the senior police officer.
He added that the police had to resort to teargas shelling, use of water cannons and firing into the air to disperse the mob.
DIG Shaikh quoted the wounded AFP photojournalist as telling the police that he was standing along with the police when the bullet fired from the crowd hit him. Also there were other witnesses to corroborate his statement, the officer said.
“There was no responsible leader to whom the police could talk and they were young students only,” he added.
Clifton SP Fida Hussain, who led the talks, said there were nearly 200 protesters. “Around 20 of them who wore masks carried weapons and resorted to firing and throwing stones,” he said.
He added that a policeman of the reserved police force, Salman, was shot at and wounded in the leg while three other policemen, including DSP Iftikhar Lodhi, were injured when stones hit them.
The Clifton SP said the protesters were at some distance from the French consulate and it was agreed that 10 of them would go there to present their memorandum.
“Since it emerged that the consulate was closed till Tuesday, the protesters agreed that they would come on that day to present the memorandum,” he explained. But some of the protesters entered a park and tried to climb the wall adjacent to the consulate.
“These men carried two bottles of petrol also that might have been used for arson activity. The bottles were later on seized by the police,” said the Clifton SP. They also allegedly tried to get hold of one of the policemen but another policeman resorted to firing to push them back. “They tried to enter the consulate and turned violent,” said the officer.
“These masked men did not appear to be under control of the protesting activists,” said the officer, adding that one of them had been taken into custody for interrogation.
Besides, the police also found one 30-bore pistol along with 30 live bullets at the crime scene.
“We were peaceful and the police without any provocation resorted to firing in which media persons and the students were hurt,” claimed Karachi IJT general secretary Umair Saeed.
Speaking at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, the IJT representative said there were several policemen in plain clothes and alleged that the police had made advanced planning for it.
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2015