The PTI said on Wednesday that one of its workers was killed in Lahore as police launched a crackdown on those participating in the party’s rally following the imposition of Section 144.
The party, which had decided to kick off its election campaign today, had planned to take out a rally from Zaman Park to Data Darbar. PTI Chairman Imran Khan and other leaders were also expected to be in attendance.
However, the party later decided to dedicate the demonstration to the judiciary and postponed the launch of its canvassing drive until Saturday.
Prior to the start of the rally, the Punjab Home Department had asked PTI leaders to take “extra precaution”, saying that such public gatherings in the face of security threats were “not advisable”.
Shortly after, the government had proceeded to impose Section 144 in Lahore. Officials had also taken scores of PTI workers into custody for violating the ban and used water cannons in an effort to disperse them which had led the PTI chairman to call off the rally.
In a tweet after calling off the rally, Imran said that party worker Ali Bilal was “murdered by Punjab police”.
“Shameful, this brutality on unarmed PTI workers who were coming to attend an election rally. Pakistan is in the grip of murderous criminals,” he said, adding that the party would file cases against the Punjab inspector general, the Lahore capital city police officer (CCPO) and others for “murder”.
In a second tweet, Imran shared a video of Bilal, adding that it showed that the PTI worker was alive while being transported to the police station.
“So he was killed while in police custody — such is the murderous bent of the present regime and the Punjab police,” he said.
Imran later said he wanted the party’s district presidents and office bearers across the country to offer funeral prayers in absentia for “our martyred worker”.
PTI Secretary General Asad Umar vowed that Bilal’s killer would be “brought to justice one day”. “The use of force has now reached such a level that the sons of the nation are being martyred,” he tweeted.
Awami Muslim League leader and PTI ally Sheikh Rashid also strongly condemned the alleged murder. “The PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) and Punjab caretaker government have crossed all limits of fascism and cruelty,” he said.
When asked to comment on the incident, the Lahore CCPO’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Syed Mubashir had initially said he had “no idea”.
Later, he told Dawn.com that as per the available information, “this is an accident”.
A statement issued by the Punjab government spokesperson said caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi took strict notice of the incident and ordered a “completely impartial and fact-based inquiry”.
“The CM has ordered that whoever is found involved, the requirements of justice under the law should be fulfilled,” the statement said.
It said the purported videos being shown by the PTI of Bilal in police custody were not from today but the ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ (court arrest movement).
“A deliberate lie is being spread that this person was in police custody. CCTV footage revealed that the deceased was dropped off at Services Hospital by a private vehicle. A search is on for the vehicle and its occupants through safe city cameras to reveal the truth,” the statement added.
It further said that the facts would only be determined after the postmortem and safe city reports came in.
Imran calls off Lahore rally
PTI chief Imran had called off today’s rally after police had launched a crackdown on party workers.
“Stop everything. We are not taking out the rally that we were supposed to as, I am saddened to say, that all the moves they (the government) are making are aimed at running away from elections.
“They are trying to ensure that chaos spreads and that is why I’m saying to my workers to finish it, we will not carry out the rally,” he said in a video address.
Imran alleged that the government had launched a crackdown on PTI workers not for the sake of law and order but in an effort to avoid conducting elections in the province.
“We cannot give them (government) any excuse [to delay the elections],” the PTI chief, again calling on party workers to return to their homes.
“They picked up and took away our people today as well — around 100 workers — for what reason?” he asked.
Shortly after Section 144 was imposed in the city, a Dawn correspondent present at the scene said scores of PTI workers were taken into police custody on Mall Road for violating the ban. He further said that all roads leading to PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence had been cordoned off.
The correspondent also said that water cannons were used in an effort to dispel PTI workers while police officials also smashed the windows of their cars.
The party’s official Twitter account also shared footage of the same.
Sharing another video, it said their “peaceful workers” were being arrested.
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry shared a video of a water cannon being used to dispel PTI rally participants.
At the time, the PTI chairman had stated that his party had launched its election campaign with hardly 55 days left for elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Under what law and in brazen contempt of the Supreme Court, the Punjab caretaker government uses massive police violence against unarmed workers to stop our planned rally?” he asked.
“The only job of caretakers is to ensure fair and free elections. What they are doing is an assault on rule of law, our Constitution and democracy. Above all, once the Supreme Court ruling is defied, it is now law of the jungle,” he said.
PTI’s Shireen Mazari said Lahore seemed to be “under covert martial law” with roads blocked, rallies — including the party’s — blocked access and unarmed workers arrested, and sound systems taken away.
In an apparent reference to the Punjab caretaker chief minister, she said: “Crook Naqvi indulging in all fascist tactics.”
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan termed the government crackdown as “shortsighted”.
“There is now an acute need for both the government and opposition to hold a political dialogue, lower the political temperature and find a solution to this perpetual impasse,” it stressed.
Separately, the Lahore Capital City Police said: “Eleven police personnel, including two DSPs (deputy superintendent of police) [and] one SHO (station house officer), were injured due to the violence of PTI workers.”
It added that one “seriously injured policeman is in critical condition.”
Pemra bans coverage of rallies on Mall Road
The Pakistan Electronic Media and Regulatory Authority (Pemra) directed all satellite TV channels asking them to “ensure stoppage of media coverage of the protests/protesters at the Mall Road Red Zone, Lahore”, citing a previous directive from a 2019 case.
The media watchdog noted “some of the satellite TV channels are indulged in non-stop coverage of public gathering and rallies and while covering those gatherings and rallies, slanderous and malicious content targeting state institutions is aired”, adding that such content was “not in consonance with Pemra Electronic Media Code of Conduct 2015”.
It added that such coverage was also in violation of a past Lahore High Court order (2020 CLC 157), which stated that “no television channel will make any coverage of the protests being conducted on the Mall Road Red Zone”.
Pemra further said that “airing of malicious and slanderous content against state institutions is in violation of Section 20b, 20c, 20d and 20f of the Pemra Ordinance 2002, Rule 15(1) of Pemra Rules 2009, Regulation 18(1) (c), (g)(m) of Pemra (Television Broadcast Station Operations) Regulations 2012 and Clauses 3 (1) (j)(I), 4(3), 4(9), 4(10), 5 and 17 of Electronic Media Code of Conduct 2015”.
The order warned that “airing of malicious and slanderous content in news bulletins, talk shows press conferences or during coverage of a public gathering/rallies and addresses would be licensee’s responsibility” and any violations would “be considered to be committed intentionally”.
It added that punitive action such as programming prohibition, fine imposition and suspension or revocation or cancellation of licence could be taken against the licensee.
Amnesty International strongly criticised the ban and called for it to be lifted.
Section 144 imposed in Lahore for 7 days
Ahead of the PTI’s rally, the Punjab Home Department had banned “all kinds of protests, demonstrations and sit-ins” in Lahore for seven days, citing the “overall security situation” in the wake of recent “wave of terrorism and threat alerts”.
A notification issued by the home ministry said the ban was imposed on “holding all kinds of assemblies, gatherings, sit-ins, rallies, processions, demonstrations, […] protests and such like other activities across the district Lahore to avert any untoward incident”.
The prohibition — imposed under Section 144 (temporary orders in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger) of the Code of Criminal Procedure — is to be in effect immediately.
PTI’s Hammad Azhar, meanwhile, filed a petition with the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the imposition of Section 144 in the city.
It contended that the Punjab Home Department had “illegally and unlawfully issued” the order for Section 144’s implementation. It argued that the order was issued without jurisdiction since only the deputy commissioner had the power to do so.
The petition requested that the Section 144 order be declared illegal and set aside. It also requested that the Punjab government be directed to provide “sufficient security” to the PTI rally.
Rana Sana defends move to impose 144
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah defended the Punjab government’s decision to impose Section 144 in the provincial capital. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he said that three rallies were happening simultaneously: Aurat March, Jamaat-i-Islami’s ‘Haya March’ and the PTI’s march.
He said that all three demonstrations were taking place in the same vicinity. “In such a situation, any incident can take place,” he said, adding that the Punjab government choose to impose Section 144 on the reports received from agencies.
The minister said that according to his knowledge, the PTI was asked to share the route for their rally with the authorities concerned which they failed to do. “On this basis, the Punjab government thought it appropriate to impose Section 144.”
He further said that on one hand the PTI chief was claiming in court that he was 72-years-old, had a cast on one leg and was unable to walk but on the other he wanted to take out a rally. He told Imran to appear in court if he was well while also raising questions about the “relief” he was being given by the courts.
Referring to the Islamabad High Court’s decision to suspend the arrest warrants registered against Imran till March 13, Sanaullah said that no more relief should be given to the PTI chief and he should be punished accordingly if he failed to appear in court yet again.
Rana Sanaullah wants bloodshed: Hammad
PTI leader Hammad Azhar castigated Punjab caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi and those “dictating him” for “ending democracy” by not allowing any political activity in the city when elections are already scheduled for April 30.
Talking to the media outside Imran’s Zaman Park residence in Lahore, he said that the “so-called unbiased caretaker government’s only duty” was to conduct elections but it was banning any rallies and political activity, creating a hindrance in the election campaign.
Alleging that Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and the incumbent government “wanted bloodshed” in the city, he directed the party workers to remain peaceful, refrain from any clashes and stay where they were.
In a tweet shortly after the talk, he shared a picture of three PTI workers who had allegedly been arrested today. “Is there a democracy right now or has it been suspended and just its announcement is awaited?” he asked.
Regarding the rally, he said the party was in contact with its legal team while PTI leader Musarrat Cheema — standing alongside Azhar — said the final decision would be taken once the PTI leadership had consulted Imran on the matter, and urged the party workers “to not give up till then”.
Punjab govt asks PTI to take ‘extra precautions’
Earlier in the day, the home department had asked PTI leaders in Lahore to take “extra precaution” in view of the party’s scheduled rally, saying such public gatherings in the face of security threats are “not advisable”.
The provincial authorities had conveyed its concerns to PTI Central Punjab President Dr Yasmin Rashid through a letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, asking the party to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.
In a letter to the PTI’s Dr Rashid, the home department had warned of security threats. “The leadership of PTI including Chairman PTI is also expected to address the general public/ participants at different places during a rally in Lahore today. It is also expected that a large number of people are likely to attend the said rally.”
According to the letter, “it is pertinent to mention here that given the current security situation of the country, public gatherings are not advisable. Furthermore, women march Is also going to be held In connection with International Women’s Day” which is likely to draw a large number of participants.“
The home department had said reactions from religious groups could not be ruled out in the wake of the women’s day rally.
“Therefore, in view of aforementioned facts, it is reiterated that the organizers of PTI rally should take extra precautions and cooperate with LEAs to thwart any untoward incident,” the letter had said.
On Tuesday, PTI leader Hammad Azhar had claimed that all arrangements for the rally were complete.
“[Wednesday’s] rally would start from Zaman Park, travel along the canal, take a sharp turn at Muslim Town Mor, and march towards the tomb of Data Ali Hajveri before its culmination,” he had informed the media at the party office.
“The rally is aimed at strengthening the judiciary, which is the last hope for the people and the rule of law,” the PTI leader had said.
Additional input by Sanaullah Khan