LAHORE: The Progressive Academics Collective (PAC) on Sunday demanded immediate release of the 23 protesters who were arrested under sedition and incitement to violence against state charges outside the Islamabad Press Club on Jan 28 last.

The civil society members, students, academics and political workers had gathered outside the club to protest against the arrest of PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen. A police contingent already present there took many of them into custody and registered cases under sedition charges against them.

The PAC said the protesters were peaceful and condemned the arrest of 23 of them. They said the right to protest, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly was guaranteed under the Constitution of Pakistan.

Those arrested include Ammar Rashid, Nawfal Saleemi and Saifullah Nasar. Graduates or current students of Pakistan’s best universities, they said, the arrested persons were intellectual assets for the country and not criminals and were highly qualified individuals who had been sent to Adiala Jail as a consequence of exercising their basic constitutional right.

This is especially worrisome as the arrested students were committed to creative and critical thinking. These qualities inform our everyday research, writing and teaching practice. We consider them essential for creating conditions of responsible and professional education and the building of a better society at large.

They were fulfilling their civic responsibility when speaking for the deprived sections of society following the arrest of Manzoor Pashteen on false charges. Their wish to transform Pakistan implies taking a stand against hate written into educational curricula. They recognise Pakistan’s diversity and care about future generations that compose the major demographic section of the nation. They raise the consciousness of our youth and all other generations to collectively build a peaceful and sustainable future.

Their arrest is part of a wider pattern of increased state repression against peaceful, democratic protest across the country. This led to the arrest of Alamgir Wazir following the Students’ Solidarity March last month and to charges of sedition being filed against respected scholars and activists such as Ammar Ali Jan, Farooq Tahir and lqbal Lala. It also led to the illegal abduction of PhD student Mohsin Abdali on Jan 30 in Lahore.

Ammar, Nawfil, Saif and all other peaceful protesters must be immediately released and the bogus charges against them be dropped. Their commitment is to the people of Pakistan, not against Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2020

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