(Clockwise from top left): Policemen step back after firing tear gas shells into demonstrators; water bowsers are parked across Sharea Faisal to stop protesters from marching on Sindh Assembly; commuters face problems due to closure of roads; workers of five parties demonstrate against alleged rigging in elections; and women protesters are manhandled by police near Sindh Assembly building on Saturday. —AFP / Fahim Siddiqi / White Star / PPI
(Clockwise from top left): Policemen step back after firing tear gas shells into demonstrators; water bowsers are parked across Sharea Faisal to stop protesters from marching on Sindh Assembly; commuters face problems due to closure of roads; workers of five parties demonstrate against alleged rigging in elections; and women protesters are manhandled by police near Sindh Assembly building on Saturday. —AFP / Fahim Siddiqi / White Star / PPI

• Batons and tear gas used to stop protesters from entering Red Zone
• Over 70 men, women briefly detained
• All roads leading to Sindh Assembly sealed
• Closure of key roads causes traffic chaos

KARACHI: Scores of activists were beaten and taken into custody on Saturday as Karachi police used tear gas shells and batons to foil a protest demonstration and sit-in announced by five political parties outside the Sindh Assembly building on the occasion of the oath-taking ceremony of newly elected MPAs.

The protest demonstration was announced by the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi (MQM-H) against alleged rigging in the general elections.

They said even women protesters were subjected to cruel and harsh treatment and taken into custody to foil the ‘peaceful’ demonstration.

The police managed to push the protesters towards the Karachi Press Club.

Earlier in the day, all roads leading to the provincial legislature were sealed with containers in order to close the so-called ‘Red Zone’ while barricades were also erected by authorities on Sharea Faisal to restrict protesters.

The blockade caused severe traffic jams in the heart of the metropolis. A large number of road users and commuters were caught in the hours-long snarl-ups all over downtown.

The Karachi Press Club and Nursery on Sharea Faisal were two main points of protests, where law enforcers took action resulting in ‘minor injuries’ to JUI-F leader Maulana Rashid Mehmood Soomro and arrest of several workers.

The women protesters who attempted to reach the assembly were allegedly manhandled by lady police, according to witnesses and videos of the incidents going viral on social media.

Ban on rallies

South-DIG Syed Asad Raza told Dawn that the provincial caretaker government on Friday imposed a ban on all rallies and protests in the Red Zone.

In view of such a decision, the South police chief said that he held talks with leaders of the GDA and other parties and informed them that Section 144 of the criminal procedure code had been imposed to stop rallies outside the legislature.

However, the officer said the leaders of different parties did not give any heed to their request and announced that they would ‘disrupt’ the proceedings of the assembly so that the newly elected lawmakers ‘could not take the oath’.

He said the police were compelled to chalk out a security plan under which 1,200 personnel were deployed near the provincial assembly (PA) while main roads leading to the PA were blocked. The public had been informed about the traffic diversion plan, he added.

The DIG claimed that the protesters created a ‘commotion’ at the two points, the KPC and Nursery, where the law enforcers resorted to tear gas shelling and baton charge and detained over 70 workers.

He admitted that a few women were also detained, who were released later on. However, the officer denied resorting to aerial firing anywhere.

He admitted that JUI-F leader Maulana Rashid Soomro received ‘minor’ injuries during the police action.

The JUI-F workers staged a sit-in on Sharea Faisal near Nursery which continued till late in the evening.

The DIG South said the sit-in was ended after release of all detained activists.

He said the police were compelled to take the action because the protesters “were bent upon moving towards the legislature”.

Police Surgeon Dr Summaiya Syed said that one policeman with minor injuries was brought to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre for treatment.

A JUI-F spokesperson, Sami Swati, said that their party’s caravans coming to the Assembly were stopped at three points — Motorway (formerly Superhighway) near Toll Plaza, National Highway and Awami Markaz on Sharea Faisal. He said when their caravan led by Allama Rashid Soomro arrived at the Nursery bus stop, police resorted to baton charge and fired tear gas shell at the participants leading to injuries to their workers and leaders, including Allama Soomro.

He said over 15 workers had been also detained.

He said they continued their sit-in on Sharea Faisal for fulfilment of three demands — release of detained workers, end of cases against activists and tendering an ‘apology’ by police authorities.

He said IGP Sindh Riffat Mukhtar Raja spoke with Allama Soomro three times on cell phone and had assured him to fulfil their demands.

The police chief sent East-SSP Syed Irfan Bahadur who held successful talks upon which they ended their protest.

The GDA leaders — Dr Safdar Abbasi, Sardar Raheem, Zain Shah of SUP — Hafiz Naeem of JI, Haleem Adil Shaikh of PTI and other leaders held consultations meeting inside the KPC after the police restricted their protest.

Later on, they came out of the club and announced that they would observe a black day on Tuesday against the ‘police action’ and alleged rigging in the general elections.

GDA leader Sardar Raheem told Dawn that he was among the leaders who held talks with the DIG South and district administration earlier and they had suggested that they allow them to hold a ‘peaceful’ protest near the YMCA ground.

Mr Raheem said they had informed the police and administration officials that they would not go to the assembly and they had no intention to disrupt the proceedings of the legislature.

But the police blocked the roads, arrested their workers creating inconveniences to citizens in the main centre of the city.

He said such an action by police compelled them to stage a sit-in outside the KPC for the whole day.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2024

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