LAHORE, May 14: The police severely beat up and arrested scores of rights activists, including women, who tried to hold a mini-marathon here on Saturday. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights (JACPR) had announced to organize the marathon from the Qadhafi Stadium to the Kalima Chowk to highlight violence against women, and for promoting ‘enlightened moderation’ in society.

As the HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir and members of other rights organizations converged outside the AGHS Legal Aid Cell on the Main Boulevard in Gulberg to head for the Qadhafi Stadium, the police barred them from proceeding and, on resistance, resorted to baton charge. Women participants, along with their male companions, were manhandled, beaten up, dragged and bundled into police trucks to be driven to the Model Town investigation centre.

Around 40 people were taken into custody, including Asma Jahangir, Iqbal Haider, former minister and the HRCP secretary-general, Hina Jilanni, Farooq Tariq, Muhammad Tehseen, Joseph Francis, and Azra Shad. The arrested people were set free hours after they were taken into custody. However, they staged a sit-in outside the Race Course Police Station for the release of two other arrested activists — Jan Nisar Baloch and Shazia – who were not released by the police.

The participants of the marathon told Dawn over cell-phone from the Model Town investigation centre that they were subjected to torture even in the trucks while on way to the lock-up.

Those assembled at the stadium to take part in the marathon were scared away by the police, who threatened the intending participants with arrest if they did not disperse and continued to violate Section 144 enforced in the city.

Sub-inspector Jehanzeb, heading the police contingent outside the AGHS Cell, claimed that if the participants had not attempted to block the road, they would have been allowed to move to the stadium.

The HRCP has sharply reacted to the police action, saying that by using brute force to prevent a peaceful attempt to draw attention to violence against women, authorities have demonstrated their anti-women bias and contempt for basic liberties.

“The brutality of the police in preventing what was intended to be a peaceful event has unmasked the true face of the state. Sadly, such thuggish behaviour has increasingly become the norm in the city, as a means to prevent basic rights, including those of assembly,” said a news release issued later in the evening.

“The organizers had faced intimidation and harassment by the police days ahead of the event, in an attempt to coerce them into calling it off,” it alleged. “Such behaviour surely goes against the so-called ‘enlightened moderation’ that the country’s rulers so fervently insist they are attempting to promote.

“Forcibly preventing participation in public events by women can act only to encourage extremism, and send out a message to orthodox elements that their actions are condoned by the state,” the HRCP said. It added: “It is among the duties of the state to protect citizens staging rallies and other events to draw attention to their concerns, rather than directing the wrath of the police against them.”

The HRCP demanded the lifting of Section 144, which had repeatedly been used to suppress basic rights. The police also rounded up activists of the Shabab-i-Milli, the youth wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami, who had also reached the venue of the marathon to stop the holding of the mixed-gender run.

Scores of MMA workers gathered later in the evening to block the Wahdat Road against the holding of the marathon.