Peshawar's deputy commissioner (DC) on Friday refused to grant permission for a public meeting planned by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), citing the rising spread of the novel coronavirus in the district.
The opposition alliance had sought permission to hold a public meeting on Peshawar's Dalazak Road, Ring Road Chowk earlier this month.
A letter issued by the DC's office today noted that the coronavirus positivity rate in Peshawar district had exceeded 13 per cent, adding that a public gathering "is likely to further increase the spread of life-threatening virus".
The letter went on to say that in order to "safeguard human lives [from the] potential spread of Covid-19", the public gathering cannot be allowed to take place.
It also cited a notification issued by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on November 2, which said that "ceremonies and other gatherings shall be avoided" in order to curb the spread of the virus.
Govt using virus as 'tactic'
Responding to the Peshawar administration's decision, PML-N Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter's spokesperson Ikhtiar Wali said that the opposition alliance will go ahead with the public meeting. In a statement to DawnNewsTV, Wali said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had held a public meeting in Swat last week and another gathering was held by KP chief minister two days before that.
"Who did they ask for permission? And who granted them permission? So if there is no rule for the ruling party, then why is [there one] for us?" he said. Wali further said that the administration had warned that it will take action if a gathering is held, adding that "we are ready to face it".
"Your (administration) role is that of the city's guardian, fulfill it. We are political people, we are ready to face it. This will not be a new thing, we are prepared for it," he said.
PPP leader Nafeesa Shah, in a press conference, declared that "selected [government] was now using new tactics".
She said that the government that previously considered coronavirus as nothing but flu was now using it as an excuse to stop the opposition from holding the gathering. She insisted that all arrangements had been made to ensure that standard operating procedures were followed.
"This government is doing corona engineering, it should stop," she said.
Precautionary measures to curb the virus' spread were not observed in any of the previous PDM rallies, which have so far been held in Gujranwala, Karachi and Quetta.
KP chief minister's aide Kamran Bangash tweeted the DC's letter and said: "[Positivity] rate of coronavirus cases in Peshawar has reached 13pc. Be sensible."
Information Minister Shibli Faraz also urged the opposition to "be sensible" and said: "Coronavirus pandemic is a global reality, it is not an innovation of someone's mind. Court decision has also been issued, opposition should be sensible and should not be an enemy of the public. Protection of public's health is our foremost priority. If God forbid, precious lives are lost, opposition leaders and the organisers of public meetings will be responsible."
The PDM has planned a public rally in the provincial capital on Sunday, where Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari and other opposition leaders are likely to deliver speeches.
The KP government had tried to convince PDM to delay the upcoming public meeting in light of a spike in the Covid-19 incidence. However, the alliance's leaders refused to meet a ministerial committee constituted by KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan in order to convince the opposition members.
On Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan had imposed restrictions on public gatherings and had called upon on citizens to observe standard operating procedures to curb the second wave of the virus. He also suspended PTI’s public gatherings and asked other political parties to follow suit.
PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman had on Tuesday announced that the alliance has rejected the government move to impose restrictions on public gatherings in the country in the wake of Covid-19 and announced that its remaining three public meetings will be held as already planned.
“There is talk about banning the public meetings on the pretext of coronavirus. We reject any such decision of the government and the PDM’s public meetings will be held as per schedule,” he had said.
Earlier this week, the Mansehra administration had refused to grant permission to PML-N to hold a rally for the same reason. However, the party went ahead and held the public meeting regardless. The DC had said as the coronavirus positivity rate in the district had alarmingly reached 9pc, allowing the holding of a public meeting would be tantamount to allowing the spread of the virus, so the district administration won’t grant PML-N that permission.
PML-N district president Zafar Mahmood told DC Qasim Ali Khan that the last-minute postponement of the political event was not possible.
Additional input by Javed Hussain.