• Imran alleges worker killed ‘in custody’, says Punjab govt’s actions tantamount to ‘blocking democracy’
• CM rejects PTI’s claim, orders probe
• Several injured on both sides
• Rana Sana says clashes occurred after PTI violated Section 144
LAHORE: A PTI worker died while several others were seriously injured and many picked up on Wednesday as the caretaker Punjab government used force to block a rally called to launch the party’s campaign for the April 30 elections to the provincial assembly.
While PTI Chairman Imran Khan alleged that the “unarmed” worker had been killed in the police custody, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah claimed that the party did not cooperate with the provincial government and their “strange behaviour” led to the incident. Interim Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi has ordered an inquiry into the death.
Long before the start of the rally, police cordoned off Mr Khan’s Zaman Park residence and blocked the workers’ access. Those who managed to slip through faced batons, water cannons and tear gas.
The PTI chief was not allowed to come out to lead the rally meant to protect “the respect and dignity of the judiciary”.
“Blocking election rallies is tantamount to blocking democracy. Where in the democratic world an election rally is sprayed with water cannons and tear gas and baton charged?” the former premier said in a video-link address after the violence.
“The Supreme Court ordered holding of polls in 90 days and that is how the imported government has responded to the order,” he said.
He said the police unleashed torture against the PTI workers, including women, to block their participation in the rally.
Sharing the pictures of the deceased and the image of his identity card, he tweeted that the dedicated and passionate PTI worker Ali Bilal, affectionately called Zille Shah, was unarmed, when murdered by the police.
He said it was a shameful act that the caretaker government unleashed brutality on unarmed PTI workers coming to attend the election rally.
“Pakistan is in the grip of murderous criminals. We will file cases against IG, CCPO and others for the murder,” Mr Khan asserted.
In another tweet, he posted a video showing Bilal inside a prison van and stated. “So he was killed while in police custody — such is the murderous bent of the present regime and Punjab police,” he lamented.
Mr Khan asked party’s district presidents and office-bearers across Pakistan to hold ghaibana namaz-i-janaza for “our martyred worker Ali Bilal on Thursday (today)”.
While announcing cancellation of the election rally, the PTI chief bemoaned the PDM government wanted to stretch the provincial interim governments as it was planning to bring in a technocratic set-up in the country.
The day began with the police blocking all roads from the Canal, The Mall and Dharampura side and the PTI leaders and workers coming face to face with the law enforcers. Clashes happened as the PTI workers wanted to march towards Zaman Park. The police were seen breaking windscreens of the PTI workers’ vehicles and baton charging those trying to cross the barricades and barbed wires.
The police also attacked the party workers, including women, who entered the ‘restricted’ Canal Road, with water cannons and tear gas shells.
The injured marchers showed the media empty shells and claimed that the police used expired teargas that caused more damage to them. They also alleged that chemical-adulterated water was used by the water cannons to keep them away.
While clashes continued for hours, it was seen that protesters employed every “trick” to reach Zaman Park and some were even seen using wooden planks and sewerage pipes to cross the canal to reach other side of the road.
A large number of party workers holding flags did manage to reach Zaman Park. They were chanting slogans against the PDM government as well as “Hum le ke rahain gay azadi”.
The PTI leadership continued airing messages that the workers should stay peaceful as the government wanted to create unrest to avoid elections on time.
They said the home department in a letter to PTI central Punjab president Yasmin Rashid had allowed the party to hold rally on the Canal and Ferozepur Road to reach Data Darbar while requesting that the “rally should take extra precautions and cooperate with the law enforcement agencies to thwart any untoward incident” in the wake of “women march” and subsequent reaction from religious groups.
In his speech, Mr Khan while addressing lawyers and judges said the nation was standing behind the judiciary to protect rule of law and save Pakistan from becoming a banana state, where “might is right”.
Referring to the police crackdown, Mr Khan said it was an attempt to roll back democracy and urged the nation to stay alive to protect their independence.
He said party workers must not indulge in any disruptive activity so that the “imposed rulers” could not find any excuse to block elections.
Imposition of Section 144 explained
In Islamabad, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah while answering a question at a press conference said that Section 144 had been imposed in Lahore on the basis of intelligence reports.
Talking about the reports of clashes, he said Mr Khan chose the same place where the organisers of Aurat March had announced their gathering.
He said the government had asked PTI to share its route of its rally and to give assurance to limit their activities to avoid any untoward incident. “But followers of Imran Khan don’t abide by rules and they always adopt a strange behaviour during such events,” he said, adding this forced the government to take the worst step.
He chided Mr Khan by saying that on one hand he was not appearing before courts but at the same time wanted to hold a rally on the eve of women’s march.
CM orders probe
In a late-night development, Interim Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi ordered an inquiry into the reported death of a PTI worker.
He claimed that the prison van video shared by Mr Khan was not fresh but recorded during the PTI’s court arrest movement.
He said CCTV footage revealed that a private person in a car left the body of a worker at the Services Hospital and Safe City Authority cameras were being checked to follow the car.
The CM said 11 policemen were injured by the PTI workers in an attack outside Zaman Park. The PTI workers had pelted stones and batons charged the police men.
Earlier, police resorted to tear gas and baton charge as the PTI workers violated Section 144 by taking out an ‘election rally’.
Mr Khan alleged that a party worker was killed by the police in custody. However, a police spokesperson denied the claim.
The CM said that Punjab Home Department had banned all kinds of protests and rallies in Lahore for seven days in the wake of the recent wave of terrorism and threat alerts.
Soon after the imposition of Section 144, the clashes started. The police also used tear gas to disperse the PTI workers. The police also arrested 16 PTI workers, including four gunmen of Azam Swati.
A Capital City Police Officer spokesperson said that 16 PTI workers were arrested for violating section 144.
He said that 14 policemen including two DSPs and an SHO were injured after the PTI workers had attacked them.
He said they did not receive any report about the death of any PTI worker.
Iftikhar A. Khan in Islamabad also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2023