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LAHORE: Hundreds of supporters of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), civil society activists and workers of various political parties on Monday responded to a call for protests against the arrest of Fata Political Alliance chief Arif Khan Wazir and three other PTM leaders in Wana a few days ago, and demanded an end to the alleged victimisation of Pashtuns.

The arrests had sparked outrage among the PTM supporters, who took to social media to assail what they termed was discrimination and victimisation of Pashtuns in the country. On Monday, the PTM announced it had countrywide protests in front of press clubs in Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Zhob, Swabi, Loralai, Qilla Saifullah, Bannu, Ziarat, Dera Ismail Khan, Swat and Hyderabad.

The protesters at the Peshawar Press Club, led by Pakhtunkhwa Ulasi Tehreek chairman Dr Said Alam Mehsud, Aurat Foundation director Shabina Ayaz, and activists Sana Ijaz, Niazbin Malang and others, demanded an end to enforced disappearances and use of alleged coercive tactics to silence those who raised their voice for the oppressed.

They demanded immediate release of PTM leaders and announced that they would march onto Islamabad, once again, and hold a nation-wide sit-in if their demands were not met.

End to enforced disappearances and release of arrested leaders demanded

The speakers claimed that coercive measures were being used to stop PTM workers from engaging in peaceful protest, especially in Quetta and Swat, where criminal cases had been registered against their workers.

One of the protesters Ameer Alam Afridi, a brother of Said Gul Afridi, who was killed along with Naqeebullah Mehsud in a fake encounter by former SP Rao Anwar, said that the police had refused to register an FIR in his brother’s case.

“They said that a committee has been formed to look into Naqeebullah’s case in Karachi, but they have refused to investigate my brother’s murder,” he lamented.

In Lahore, nearly a hundred protesters gathered in front of the press club and condemned the crackdown on rights activists and the PTM leaders.

Advocate Ibrar Ahmed said that instead of appreciating the PTM’s stand against terrorism, the authorities were arresting its leaders for raising a voice for the marginalised communities. “We are told that we are valiant and brave because we have sacrificed so much in the war on terror...but we were sacrificed in this war even when we didn’t ask to be sacrificed,” he said.

The protesters held up placards with their demands written on them — End enforced disappearances; Stop harassing and discriminating against Pashtuns; We demand the release of non-violent Pashtun leaders, and Do not claim that our legal demands are anti-state.

Diep Saeeda said activists from Punjab were in solidarity with the Pashtun. “We will continue to protest against coercive tactics used to silence activists,” she said, while announcing a daylong sit-in in Lahore on March 31 to demand the return of missing activists across the country.

A good number of lawyers, civil society activists and workers of political parties gathered in front of the Swat Press Club and demanded release of their leaders.

“Arif Wazir had peacefully demanded the rights of Pashtuns which is a legal right under the Constitution which ensures freedom of speech. We not only condemn the unlawful arrest but also demand his immediate release,” said Muhammad Iqbal Esakhel.

He condemned the attack in Kabul on a sit-in held in solidarity with the PTM.

Women lawyers at the protest said they would back the PTM’s demands at every forum. “We are against every type of terrorism and extremism on our land and fully support the PTM’s demand for peace,” said Mehnaz, a protester and lawyer.

The protesters in Swabi, led by Liaqat Yousafzai, gathered at the Karnal Sher Khan Chowk and marched through Swabi-Jehangira, Link Road and Swabi-Mardan Road.

They declared that their struggle to secure the rights of tribal people and other marginalised communities would continue.

Our correspondents in Peshawar, Swat and Swabi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2018