Karachi police on Wednesday resorted to tear gas shelling and baton-charge in an effort to disperse Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) protesters staging a sit-in outside the Sindh Chief Minister House against the recently passed local government law, witnesses and officials said.
The protesters, including lawmakers, women and children, set out from FTC Roundabout on Sharea Faisal and eventually reached the CM House where they staged a sit-in.
South Zone DIG Sharjeel Kharal said that the party leadership had violated an "agreement" between the two that the protest would be restricted to the Karachi Press Club (KPC).
"They also blocked main Sharea Faisal at FTC for a considerable period of time causing a traffic jam. When they reached near Metropole hotel on Club Road, the MQM-P protestors allegedly attacked police with stones after officials tried to prevent them from holding a rally in the Red Zone," he said.
The official said that the protesters moved towards the chief minister's house in groups and staged a sit-in for an hour-and-a-half. The DIG said that he as well as the Karachi commissioner, Deputy commissioner South and SSP South held talks with the MQM-P leadership in an effort to get them to disperse but they refused to do so.
“Finally, police moved to clear the road as there were apprehensions of a security breach at the chief minister’s secretariat,” he said. “Police resorted to tear gas shelling and detained eight persons,” Kharal added.
The officer said that one MPA, identified as Sadaqat Hussain, was also among the detained persons as he allegedly attacked police and subsequently suffered "minor" injuries on the head. He was shifted to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) for treatment.
A senior police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, told Dawn that police officials held talks with the MQM-P leadership and tried to persuade them to head towards the press club as the CM House was located in a Red Zone where such activities are not allowed.
The officer claimed that the MQM-P leadership did not listen, which prompted police to take action in the form of tear gas shelling and baton-charge.
MQM-P says lawmakers injured, arrested
Meanwhile, the MQM-P said that police restored to tear gas shelling and baton-charge against "women and members of the Sindh and National Assembly. “The MQM-P’s elected lawmakers were injured and arrested," the party said in a statement.
It added that MPA Sadaqat Hussain was injured during the police action and had been detained. "Several lawmakers and workers were taken to undisclosed places," the party said. In a video being widely shared on social media, three policemen are seen dragging Hussain on the road.
The party dubbed the Sindh government as "fascist" and accused police of attacking the "peaceful protest" on the orders of the provincial chief minister and the PPP leadership.
Meanwhile, MQM-P leader Amir Khan called for Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to resign immediately. He said Shah did not allow the people of Karachi to exercise their democratic right.
He also called for the "immediate intervention" of the federal government, urging it to seek an explanation from the provincial police chief regarding the "torture of women and children".
MQM-P Convener Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui announced that the party would observe a black day on Thursday. He also called on PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari to "restrain" the Sindh chief minister. "Otherwise, Bilawal House is also located in the city," he warned.
He also claimed that the former nazim of New Karachi had lost vision in one of his eyes due to police violence. He warned the "biased" chief minister of "horrible consequences" once citizens take to the streets.
The opposition leader in the Sindh Assembly, Haleem Adil Sheikh, also condemned the incident and termed it the "authoritarian approach" of the PPP government.
PTI lawmaker Raja Azhar also condemned police action and urged Sindh Governor Imran Ismail to take notice.
PML-N MNA Kheeal Das expressed concern over the situation and urged both the sides to opt for talks and demonstrate responsible behavior to control the brewing "sentiment of hatred" in the province.
In a statement, the Sindh governor said that MQM-P was subjected to "barbarism". He also regretted the fact that women were subjected to police torture and urged the chief minister to hold talks with the party.
"It would be advisable to deal with peaceful protestors in a peaceful manner," he suggested.
Sindh govt's response
Speaking to the media, Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani said that the PPP had always supported peaceful protests and provided space to rival parties for staging demonstrations.
He gave the example of the Jamaat-i-Islami's sit-in outside the Sindh Assembly for the last 25-26 days, calling it proof of the party's democratic ways.
The minister said that the MQM-P had announced that it would take out the rally from Sharea Faisal to KPC, but suddenly changed its route and moved towards the CM House.
Ghani said rallies and sit-ins had taken place outside the CM House recently, but the current situation was different as Pakistan Super League (PSL) teams were staying at hotels near the site of the protest.
He said that the area had been declared a "high security zone" where all such activities were banned.
The minister went on to say that when the MQM-P protesters arrived at the CM House, authorities engaged them in talks and told them to head to the press club. However, they refused to do so, he said.
Law enforcers, who were cognisant of the possibility of any untoward incident having an impact on PSL, took action to disperse the protesters, he said.
The minister admitted that certain actions, such as the alleged beating of women and an MQM-P lawmaker, should not have taken place.