Dozens detained from outside Bilawal House as police foil protest against Gujjar nullah demolitions

Published June 21, 2021
Policemen are seen near the Bilawal House in Karachi as people gather to protest demolitions along the Gujjar nullah. — Photo courtesy Karachi Bachao Tehreek Twitter
Policemen are seen near the Bilawal House in Karachi as people gather to protest demolitions along the Gujjar nullah. — Photo courtesy Karachi Bachao Tehreek Twitter

Affectees and civil society organisations on Monday held a protest outside Bilawal House in Karachi against the demolition of homes situated on Gujjar and Orangi nullahs in an anti-encroachment operation being carried out on the Supreme Court's orders.

However, their efforts were foiled by police who allegedly created hindrances on several routes, "hijacked" two buses and detained several persons including women and children, according to the organisers. For their part, the police denied any detention or torture. The incident prompted Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to form a high-level committee to investigate the "whole situation", his spokesperson said.

Despite all hurdles, many of the protestors — mostly young males and females — managed to reach near Bilawal House where the police prevented them from protesting, snatched banners from them, and detained over 20 persons, said Khurram, convenor of the Karachi Bachao Tehreek (KBT).

Subsequently, they held a protest outside the Karachi Press Club (KPC).

Speaking to Dawn.com, Khurram said that the police had adopted an aggressive attitude since morning. They allegedly conducted a raid on the KBT office in Kausar Niazi Colony and took away banners and pamphlets. The raid was conducted to arrest Abid Asghar, the KBT president, who was not present on the premises.

The police also maintained a heavy presence near the Bilawal House and tried to prevent people from going towards it. Khurram claimed that two buses carrying protestors, including women and children, were allegedly hijacked by the police near Boat Basin and South City Hospital while around 20 to 25 protestors were detained from outside Bilawal House. They were shifted to different police stations, however, some of them were later released and joined the protesters at the KPC.

"Our main demand was to restore the Orangi Town nullah and Gujjar nullah on the pattern of Mahmoodabad nullah [through which] 90 per cent homes could be saved from demolition," explained Khurram, who is also a leader of the Awami Workers Party. He was referring to the right of way developed over Mahmoodabad nullah which was built over 15 feet, while the same structure over Orangi Town nullah and Gujjar nullah was proposed for 30 feet.

He added that their second demand pertained to the provision of compensation and alternative accommodation to those whose houses have been demolished. He said that even the Supreme Court of Pakistan had ordered the provision of alternative residences to the affectees.

Read: Gujjar and Orangi nullah demolitions show how Pakistan's legal system is stacked against the poor

The KBT comprises several groups/parties such as the AWP, Woman Democratic Front, Progressive Students and 'Besharam Baghi Tehreek' and the affectees.

Police deny any arrest

For his part, South Zone SSP Zubair Nazeer Shaikh told Dawn.com that the police did not detain or arrest any person. He also denied any action against the protestors.

He said that the protestors had blocked the road and that the police tried to prevent them and advised them to go to the "regular venue of protests" — Karachi Press Club — as such protests were also banned in the Red Zone. Subsequently, the protesters left for the KPC, he added.

Another police officer who asked not to be named told Dawn.com that around 30 protesters including four women were detained. They were brought to the police station concerned and were released.

CM forms committee

Meanwhile, Sindh government spokesperson, Barrister Murtaza Wahab, said that the chief minister had taken notice of the protest and alleged torture of protesters by police outside Bilawal House.

"Sindh government respects freedom of expression," said the advisor. He suggested, however, that people should also not cause inconveniences to others while holding protests.

He said that the chief minister had established a high-level committee to look into the matter of the protest and alleged torture.

The body would hold an inquiry into the whole situation.

He said he had talked to South SSP who said that no one was arrested.

The SSP also informed him that the police did not resort to torture but had asked the protestors not to block the traffic.

A similar statement was made by provincial minister Saeed Ghani, who said that police had informed him that no one had been arrested.

"A peaceful protest is the constitutional right of every citizen. We respect that," he tweeted.

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