PROTEST rallies and sit-ins were held across the country on Friday against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, amid scattered attacks on media houses and facilities that left over half a dozen media people injured with their equipment burnt or destroyed.
The most violent and brazen attack was witnessed at the Hyderabad Press Club where an angry mob set fire to its furniture, computers and other equipment and injured four media persons during a protest demonstration staged by several religious parties against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri.
Also, the offices of Aaj News in Karachi and Lahore came under attack, the digital satellite news gathering (DSNG) vans of Abb Takk and Aaj News were pelted with stones in Lahore, media crew were thrashed in several major cities, law-enforcers were beaten up and motorbikes parked outside the Hyderabad Press Club were ransacked.
The violence caused traders to shut markets in several towns before sunset amid panic and fear while massive traffic jams were witnessed on many roads because of angry protests which blocked major arteries of cities for several hours. While law-enforcement personnel brought the situation under control, they failed to convince traders to reopen their businesses.
A witness to the violent protest in Hyderabad said: “During the over-half-an-hour incident, Press Club manager Ali Ahmed was beaten up.”
The media persons who received injuries while trying to keep rioters away included Qasim Khan of 92-News, Niaz Vighio of Daily Mehran, Faheem Babbar of Sindh TV, Farhan Khan of APP, Umair Rajput and Shahid Malik, the witness said, adding that all the injured were later admitted to hospitals.
The call for protests in the second largest city of Sindh was given by different organisations. The prominent among them was Milli Yakjehti Council which staged a demonstration at Hyder Chowk, while Jamiat-i-Ulema Pakistan (JUP) and Pakistan Sunni Tehreek held rallies outside the Hyderabad Press Club.
In Karachi, one of the main protest rallies was organised by Sunni Tehreek on the M.A. Jinnah Road. Workers and leaders of the party marched from Jama Cloth Market to Numaish traffic intersection where they joined the sit-in staged by several other religious parties mainly representing the Barelvi school of thought.
At the Lasbela traffic intersection, the Jamaat-i-Islami held a demonstration, which was attended by number of workers and senior leaders of other parties as well, after Friday prayers. The demonstration was addressed by Karachi JI chief Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rahman who condemned the execution and called it a move of the government only to appease the west.
The situation turned violent minutes after the sit-in at the Numaish intersection was called off and the head office of Aaj News, situated close to sit-in site, came under attack.
At the same time, angry youngsters burnt tyres on the road connecting M.A. Jinnah Road with Saddar. Before personnel of law-enforcement agencies intervened, traders in Saddar markets pulled down shutters amid heated arguments with charged youths carrying sticks and stones.
Within half an hour, major business centres including electronics market in Saddar and wholesale markets along the main M.A. Jinnah Road were closed. The intervention by Rangers and police, however, failed to restore traders’ confidence as markets remained closed even after the dispersal of the protesters.
The pro-Qadri protesters blamed law-enforcement agencies and the administration for provoking the violence by not allowing them to stage peaceful demonstrations and sit-in against the execution.
In Lahore, the situation remained grim with attacks on the DSNG vans of Abb Takk and Aaj News channels near Anarkali. Stones were also hurled at policemen near the Lower Mall. Witnesses and officials also confirmed attack on Aaj News office at Anarkali before the protesters moved on to participate in the sit-in which continued even after the sunset.
The leaders of Sunni Tehreek and Sunni Ittehad Council led the protest march which caused traffic congestion on the Mall Road and Ferozepur Road. All businesses along the route of the protest march remained closed, as several traders’ bodies also joined the protest announced by the religious parties.
In Rawalpindi, several religious groups staged rallies on Peshawar Road, Murree Road and Dhamial Road before converging at the Committee Chowk.
Protest rallies were also held across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas after Friday prayers against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri.
In Mansehra district traders observed a strike. The main rally, jointly organised by the JI and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F), was taken out from the central mosque on Abbottabad Road.
Rallies were also staged in Charsadda bazaar, Tangi, Umarzai, Sar Dheri, Mandani, Hari Chand, Dhaki, Tarnab, Nesata and others towns of the district on the call of JUI-F, JI, Ahl-i-Sunnat Wal Jamaat and others parties. The protest rallies were also held in Malakand, Mohmand Agency and Battagram.
Media organisations condemn attacks: The attacks on the news channel offices, DSNG vans and the Hyderabad Press Club attracted a strong reaction from media and journalist associations, including Karachi Union of Journalists, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA).
The PBA expressed its strong concern while Editors for Safety, an organisation of newspaper editors and heads of TV channels working for safety and protection of journalists, showed the same reaction to a series of attacks on journalists and TV crews in different cities.
The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) called it an “attack on free media” and called for tolerance and decency, while holding the organisers of the rallies responsible for such incidents.
“The media and its policies cannot be influenced or suppressed through state or non-state forces. The CPNE demands action against those elements who are responsible for Friday attacks,” said a CPNE statement.
Imran Gabol in Lahore, Aamir Yasin in Rawalpindi and Mohammad Hussain Khan in Hyderabad also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2016