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KARACHI: Cinema owner laments police raid

August 22, 2004

KARACHI, Aug 21: With eyes brimming with tears, the owner of the Prince Cinema said on Saturday he had no idea why the Sindh home minister and police had raided his cinema and taken unsuspecting viewers, some accompanied by women, into custody.

Speaking at a press conference at Bambino Cinema, 75-year-old Mohammad Akbar, who sat next to his son-in-law Sami Iftikhar, said his honour had been damaged irreparably.

They recalled how in a swoop carried out under the supervision of the Sindh home minister, the police had misbehaved with the viewers in the cinema.

"They knew that there were women inside. And yet they brought no women constables along. The minister had the audacity to say in parliament that the cinema had been turned into a brothel. Why were women who were arrested allowed to go without undergoing medical tests?," Mr Akbar said.

"I am not worried about the cinema and the losses we might have incurred because of the raid. I am worried about my name and honour which has been tarnished. I run the cinema with my son-in-law. Can I run that kind of trade on the premises of the cinema that I am being accused of?" he wondered, adding that he belonged to a respectable family from Muradabad and studied at Aligarh.

He said there was no issue of extortion involved. He added that the long-standing dispute over the ownership of the cinema had nothing to do with the raid.

Akbar and Iftikhar said they had been kept in custody for two days. "Despite the fact that bail had been granted to us, the police kept us in custody unlawfully. The raiding party also walked off with the money in the canteen and all the eatables there," they said.

Mr Iftikhar said that his father-in-law was a heart patient. "And yet they did everything to torment him. He is an old man, and they showed no remorse while inconveniencing him," he said.

Mr Akbar said there were at least 600 people in the cinema when the raid occurred. "How could anybody do anything objectionable in the presence of so many people? And how can we stop people from buying tickets if we run the kind of trade in the cinema that we are being accused of?" he said.

He said the raid had dealt a body blow to the already moribund cinema trade in Pakistan. He added that general viewers would stay away from cinemas if they became convinced that cinemas were actually dens of vice.

Mr Akbar said that the police had not sealed the cinema. "For three days, the cinema remained without proper staff. A gas leak occurred in the meantime. A fire could have broken out if anybody had lit a match," he said.

But when he took a group of journalists to the cinema on M.A. Jinnah Road, police officials hurriedly locked the door and refused to let him in. They said that they had been asked by their ASP to lock the door. Mr Akbar said that this was another violation of the law because the cinema had not been sealed by the police who had no right to stop him from entering the premises.