At least seven people were arrested after members of a police party were manhandled by a mob for enforcing restrictions on Friday prayer congregations amid the coronavirus lockdown in Karachi's Liaquatabad neighbourhood, police officials and witnesses said.
The Sindh government had announced a complete lockdown from noon to 3:30pm on Friday, advising people not to come out of their houses for Juma prayers. Provincial Local Government Minister Nasir Hussain Shah had said only three to five people would be allowed to pray in mosques.
Heavy contingents of police and Rangers were deployed outside mosques to prevent people from congregating for Friday prayers, with police officials claiming that lockdown measures and bans on congregational prayers were largely followed throughout the province, with just one incident of violence happening in Karachi's Liaquatabad.
Policemen were allegedly assaulted in Liaquatabad No.7 by a crowd when they reportedly tried to arrest Ghousia Masjid's prayer leader – who led congregational prayers in violation of the government order.
Police claimed that the prayer leader instigated the crowd which then beat up the police personnel, prompting two of them to reportedly take shelter inside a house in the locality.
Witnesses said police resorted to aerial firing to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
Karachi police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon told Dawn that the prayer leader of the mosque and six other people including its trustees were arrested on charges of violating lockdown measures and manhandling the policemen. They were booked under terror charges along with other sections.
AIG Memon said the incident was subject to verification and a probe had been launched to ascertain as to how it transpired.
He said two elements are being probed: whether the detained imam had gathered the area's residents for prayers and whether he instigated the mob to commit violence when the police intervened.
If it is proved that the imam had instigated the people, relevant sections of the law will be invoked against him and others named in the First Information Report, he added.
The police officer acknowledged that some policemen were assaulted by the mob but said that it was yet to be ascertained whether the cops resorted to aerial firing as shown in some videos on social media or whether these videos were from some other incident.
Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) spokesperson Mohammed Ali told Dawn that the incident occurred when the police allegedly beat up worshippers. He claimed TLP workers saved the police personnel from the angry mob.
Police also registered cases against the prayer leaders of five other mosques for offering congregational prayers against the government ban.
AIG Memon said there are an estimated 10,000 mosques in Karachi and almost all of them "responded positively" to the restrictions except a few in the Central district. The citizens too generally followed the orders as there was a complete lockdown for three hours in the city, he added.
Agreeing with him, Sindh Police chief Mushtaq Ahmed Mahar said a near-complete lockdown was witnessed in Karachi and other major cities of Sindh on what was the 12th day of the lockdown. Barring ambulance and rescue services, all kinds of public movements were completely banned.
Roads looked deserted where extra check posts were set up with additional deployment of LEA personnel. “There was strict compliance [of the lockdown measures] from 12:30pm to 3:30pm,” the IGP Sindh said.
Another senior police officer, East Zone DIG Nauman Siddiqi, said there was a complete lockdown in his zone and no one was arrested. A South Zone police officer said two people were held in Lyari on charges of violating the lockdown.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed concerns over what it termed "elusive relief efforts" of the government for the people affected by the ongoing lockdown in Sindh.
HRCP coordinator Kaleem Durrani said anxiety among the poor people over food shortage was growing while it was being observed that daily wagers and others rendered jobless were resisting the lockdown measures as their sources of livelihood had been suspended.