University of Peshawar students protesting on the university campus against an increase in the semester fee clashed with police on Thursday, leading to injuries and several arrests.
Six students were injured and taken to the Khyber Teaching Hospital, the hospital's public relations officer, Farhat Khan, told DawnNewsTV.
A police official at the campus police station, who wished not to be named, told DawnNewsTV that 28 students had been arrested for staging the protest held in violation of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedures Code.
He added that three policemen had also received injuries during the clash.
The protest had been announced by the Muttahida Tulaba Mahaz. It was held at the university's Pearl Lawn, where students from the Pukhtoon Students Federation (PSF) — the student wing of Awami National Party (ANP) — Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT), and Muslim Students Federation (MSF) congregated to record their opposition to the fee hike.
Peshawar University spokesperson Imran Ali Bangash told DawnNewsTV that he believed the protests were also a reaction to an operation conducted by the university administration in July during which they had vacated around 300 hostel rooms occupied by students belonging to various political organisations and movements.
"These students were trying to blackmail us [the university administration]. Two outsiders, both of whom are graduates, are leading these protests. One belongs to the IJT and the other to the PSF. Their aim is to find a way to blackmail the administration whilst using innocent students as a shield.
"We gave them five hours to register their protest. We listened to them, provided them with [campus] space. We asked them to sit down [for talks]. They staged their protest and raised slogans; the media also came to cover it," the spokesperson said while recounting the day's events.
"When the students started to move towards the administration wing, we didn't want to, but were forced to take action against them," he continued, adding that the administration could not condone the university's atmosphere being ruined, especially at a time when admissions for the Bachelors of Science programme are underway.
Strong condemnations pour in
Meanwhile, strong statements of condemnation started pouring in; prominently from Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leader Manzoor Pashteen and ANP leaders.
Pashteen, condemning the police crackdown on students, said: "Protests against fee increase is an expected reaction from those who can't afford to pay. We demand action against police responsible for this violence. Everyone has the right to protest."
The ANP spokesperson, Zahid Khan, also issued an emphatic condemnation, saying that the present government talks about education and change, "but then goes ahead and does something like this".
"Is this the change that they wish to bring about? To rain batons on students protesting?" the spokesperson asked.
"If this brutality against students continues, the political parties will join the students in protesting," he warned.
Later in the day, ANP leader Mian Iftikhar visited the students in custody at the campus police station.
KP govt's response
Soon after the students were arrested and police managed to disperse the crowd, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Spokesperson Shaukat Yousafzai held a press conference regarding the incident.
He expressed sorrow at the way things had escalated and asserted that he has and will always raise his voice for the rights of students.
"There is a hidden element to this story, which is in contrast with what appears on the surface," he said while addressing the media.
"According to the [university] syndicate's decision, the fee structure is revised upward every year by 10 per cent," he explained, adding that despite that decision, the fee structure had been unchanged for the past two years.
"I am against the use of force against students, but they are being used by political parties. Many hostel rooms were taken over by students not entitled to use them," he said, adding that there were around 400 rooms that were illegally occupied.
He provided assurances that talks were being held for the expeditious release of the students, and said that the government was willing to address any grievances and conduct an inquiry if the students so wish.
Meanwhile, Yousufzai said, the students should refrain from using university grounds as an arena for politics.