Battle on Constitution Avenue: Scores of lawyers, journalists injured
ISLAMABAD, Sept 29: Islamabad saw a dreadful day of police wrath on Saturday that marred General Pervez Musharraf’s march towards election for another presidential term.
The capital went through one of its worst police violence targeting lawyers and journalists, many of whom were injured and hospitalised, as the president scored his second legal victory in as many days over challenges to his candidacy after the Election Commission approved his nomination.
It happened only a day after a nine-judge Supreme Court bench dismissed challenges to Gen Musharraf’s dual position as president and army chief, giving him a big legal boost against his political opponents.
Groups of lawyers and journalists also staged protests against the president’s candidature in the four provincial capitals.
In the federal capital, there were pitched battles between police and lawyers around the Election Commission and the nearby Supreme Court, on Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue, while journalists were also caught in the fray.
Some opposition political activists who had come to the scene to give moral support to their favourite candidates, also became victims of an unusual display of brutality by police, which used baton-charges, fired teargas and even hurled stones at the protesters.
A large number of police in white plainclothes were at hand to help their uniformed colleagues of the riot police and anti-terrorist squads and did most of the stone-throwing and removing detained protesters from the scene.
Some lawyers used their own flag-sticks or those snatched from police to counter attacks on them.
Some of the striking scenes of the incident witnessed by a team of Dawn reporters included a couple of lawyers with blood oozing from their heads after they had been hit apparently by police sticks or stones, prominent lawyer Ali Ahmad Kurd being roughed up and then carried away by white-clothed policemen, some colleagues risking their own arms by trying to shield opposition legal star and PPP member of the National Assembly Aitzaz Ahsan from police batons, and even Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Tariq Azim Khan being punched by some unidentified persons.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairperson Asma Jehangir was seen waving her arm like a sword as if cursing the police action.
The clashes started when the police baton-charged lawyers who wanted to go inside the Election Commission building and intensified minutes after the prime minister’s car entered the Commission’s building. The situation took an ugly turn when Shaukat Aziz was about to leave the Election Commission.
The law enforcers went on the rampage after they saw the prime minister’s car, with hundreds of policemen making a human chain on both sides to provide security cover to him.
The Constitution Avenue saw sporadic pitched battles as the law enforcers trying to muzzle the voice of lawyers chanting anti-Musharraf slogans met a strong resistance from them. Some of the lawyers had the courage to snatch batons from the policemen and use the same against them.
Three armed personnel carriers (APCs) were there at the constitution avenue to fire tear gas shells on the protesters who, despite the brutal baton charge, kept on asserting that their struggle will continue till the army goes back to the barracks.
Thousands of security personnel were deployed at the partially sealed avenue. They included anti-terrorist squad and plain-clothed police recruits.
Ali Ahmed Kurd, known for his fiery rhetoric, set ablaze a copy of the Supreme Court judgment allowing Gen Musharraf to seek another five-year term as president.
Some senior lawyers, including Munir A Malik, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and Ali Ahmed Kurd, were manhandled during the process. Scores of other lawyers and political activists were also rounded up. Most of them were later released.
Some PPP activists, women included, who were chanting slogans against President Musharraf’s candidature were taken to different police stations.
Journalists also became the worst victim of police torture with over 20 of them being rushed to hospitals after sustaining injuries. The cameras and other professional equipment of the media were damaged and the cables of TV channels providing live coverage were severed.
The Inspector General of Islamabad police, Moravet Shah, assured a team of journalists that action would be taken against those who manhandled and baton-charged their colleagues.
Zahid Khan, Awami National Party leader, burnt his hands when he caught a gas shell that came close to him.
The parliamentary leader of MQM in the National Assembly, Dr Farooq Sattar, was attacked by lawyers when he reached the Poly Clinic with the injured journalists. Dr Farooq Sattar termed the “manhandling” uncalled for.
CONDEMNATION: The Pakistan Peoples Party condemned the crackdown in strong words.
Describing the police action as “deplorable and shocking”, Sherry Rehman, Central Information Secretary of the party, said it was worse than the events during the judicial crisis when the government went out of its way to muzzle the media. “This is not acceptable at all.”
She called for the release of the arrested and for the lifting of suspension of television transmissions.
Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani also deplored the action against the journalists, Minister Tariq Azeem Khan and MQM leader Farooq Sattar.
Talking to reporters, he said an inquiry had been launched into the “incidents of high-handedness and those responsible would be brought to justice”.
All forms of extremist acts especially torture is deplorable and condemnable. This is time when all of us should sit together to ponder as to which destiny these extremist attitudes is taking us,” he said.
PESHAWAR: Lawyers boycotted court proceedings against the filing of nomination papers of Gen Pervez Musharraf and held demonstrations in Peshawar and other towns of the NWFP to protest the use of force in Islamabad.
KARACHI: Police baton-charged and fired teargas on protesters in Karachi, wounding three lawyers and arresting more than 10 others during a crackdown on people agitating against the approval of President Musharraf’s nomination papers.
Lawyers, journalists and activists of a joint forum of several organisations, the People’s Movement for Justice, tried to stage demonstrations outside the office of the election commission.
Lawyers brought out processions in Lahore and Quetta as well.
TV CHANNELS BLOCKED: A number of television stations complained that the government had taken them off air during the protests in Islamabad, agencies add.
Spokespersons for Geo, Aaj and ARYONE said that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) had blocked transmissions for several hours.
None of the channels was available in and around Islamabad during the clashes between police and lawyers.
“Since the morning Geo, Aaj and ARY were off the air,” a Geo spokesman said.
“We received a warning from PEMRA two days ago that some of the interviewers on TV programmes are behaving like judges and indulging in incitement and today it carried out this action,” he said.
“We condemn this action. It exposes the hollowness of the Musharraf government’s claims that it upholds the freedom of the press.”
The ARYONE spokesperson said her channel was taken off the air by the government “as soon as the protests started,” adding, “we condemn it”.