LAHORE: Amid cheers and slogans at a public meeting at Mochi Gate on Sunday, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) demanded formation of a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ to look into the cases of extrajudicial killings and missing persons.
The PTM announced that its next gathering would be held in Karachi on May 12, to commemorate those who fell victim to “extrajudicial killings that took place on the same day a few years ago”.
“We demand justice for the martyred students of the Army Public School (APS). We also want all FIRs against innocent Pashtuns from Lahore’s educational institutes to be taken back,” said PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen.
Several thousand people, including representatives of civil society organisations, flocked the Mochi Gate ground. Some participants carried black flags to represent the alleged grim situation of human rights in the country, particularly in the Pashtun majority areas.
Thousands, including civil society activists, turn up at rally; Bilawal, Maryam express solidarity
Some were from Lahore while some had travelled all the way from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to participate in the rally. They complained about lack of access to basic utilities and communication services like Internet or mobile phones. They also complained of lack of access to health and education services. One man said that old landmines in South Waziristan had become extremely dangerous for people, particularly children.
Manzoor Pashteen thanked the residents of Lahore for coming to the rally and standing up for people’s rights.
Fazal Mohammad, one of the speakers, asked why there had been so much coverage of Ehsanullah Ehsan and other extremists, while the PTM was being “banned and censored”. Mr Fazal is an advocate of the Peshawer High Court and his son lost his life in the APS massacre.
Mr Pashteen, while reiterating the PTM’s demands, said all their demands were constitutional and peaceful. He said that if missing persons were involved in any criminal activity they should be produced before a court to have a free and fair trial.
“Initially our demand was that Rao Anwar should be arrested,” he said. “But we all saw what happened to our demand. But this is not the first time things like these have happened.”
He spoke of extrajudicial killings and claimed that thousands of Pashtuns had been killed extrajudicially.
He said that according to the Constitution all those arrested must be brought before a court of law within 24 hours, but regretted that this was not happening.
The PTM leader alleged that after innocent people were killed, the media presented them as terrorists.
He assailed the attitude of the media in covering far-flung and remote areas where people suffered because of several problems, including terrorism, but the media never highlighted these issues.
He demanded that missing persons, who he alleged were sold off, should be immediately reunited with their families.
He condemned the banning of peaceful rallies and harassment of several PTM leaders and supporters by the Punjab police on Saturday night, saying that they had been released after being arrested for no reason. “This was unnecessary intimidation.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, supporting freedom of expression, tweeted: “All Pakistani citizens have right to peaceful protest. PTM are no different. From the arrest of their organisers and allies, to the continued harassment of students in Lahore, I condemn the highhandedness and disregard for the constitutional rights of the people.”
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Maryam Nawaz also sympathised with the detained PTM supporters, saying that “Pashtun brothers should be released immediately and the Convention should be allowed. This country is for all of us, as much as his.”
Also speaking about freedom of speech, she said in another tweet: “Try pressing forcefully voices opposing the cruelty and abuse, nor ever will be, and not succeeded.”
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also tweeted: “Freedom of thought & expression is a constitutional right of all Pakistanis. Pashtun, Punjabi, Mohajir, Sindhi & Baloch r all equal Pakistanis. PMLN does not believe in politics of ethnicity. Pakistan belongs to all of its people. Let us work together 4 peaceful & prosperous Pakistan.”
Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2018