KARACHI: A protest rally organised by the students’ wing of a religious party turned violent on Sunday when participants beat up journalists, set fire to a vehicle of a private news channel and attacked the Karachi Press Club over what described as a lack of media coverage of their protest.

The Anjuman Talba-i-Islam (ATI), the students’ wing of Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan-Noorani, staged a demonstration in front of the KPC on the eve of the Chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted killer of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer.

Witnesses and police said that dozens of charged ATI workers arrived at the KPC at around 5.40pm. They were shouting slogans in favour of Mumtaz Qadri and some of them were wearing helmets to conceal their identities.

They said that the protesters had a heated argument with some cameramen for a lack of coverage of their protest. While they were engaged in the argument, those who wore helmets started smashing the windowpanes of a parked vehicle of a private news channel, Jaag TV, and set it on fire, they added.

The unruly protesters beat cameramen and hurled stones at the KPC and an adjacent building.

Sohail Burfat, a cameraman working in the Jaag TV, told Dawn that some six to seven protesters wearing helmets approached and asked him as to why the journalists were not covering their protest although they had covered Holi the other day.

“They started hitting me with sticks and sprinkled some chemical on our vehicle and set it on fire,” he added. “They also took away three cameras,” he added.

Witnesses said that the protesters tried to enter the KPC and attacked a watchman, Furqan. However, despite being beaten up he managed to lock the main gate of the KPC.

Furqan later told Dawn that no police contingent was deployed outside the KPC for security and after locking the main gate he ran for safety.

He said protesters, who were using abusive language against the KPC and journalist community, pelted the building with stones and resorted to firing into the air as well. He said that some of them had bottles that probably contained fuel or chemicals.

As the hooliganism continued, a contingent of police arrived at the scene to control the situation. They fired into air and lobbed teargas shells to disperse the unruly mob.

DSP-Saddar Kanwar Asif told Dawn that the police fired into air only three or four shots to prevent the situation from further worsening.

No arrest was made, however, as protesters managed to escape.

The police and KPC officials maintained that the attackers belonged to the ATI. However, the students’ wing denied its involvement in the “violent incident at the KPC”, according to an ATI press release.

Case under anti-terror law against ATI workers

Later in the evening, the Artillery Maidan police lodged an FIR against ATI’s Karachi chief Iftikhar Ahmed and others on behalf of the state.

Area SHO Abdul Ghaffar said that police were conducting raids to arrest those responsible for the incident.

Meanwhile, KPC Secretary A.H. Khanzada told an emergency meeting of journalists that the press club would boycott the ATI and its parent organisation, the JUP, and they would not be allowed to hold any event at the KPC.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2016