Not Properly Dressed to Run
by Farooq Sulehria

HRCP Secretaryand President, LPP Secretary, activists arrested for mix marathon

A police contingent, on May 14, arrested women and men gathered to participate in a symbolic race organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Joint Action Committee for Peoples Rights in Lahore ´to test the enlightened-moderation´ claims of the government.

Asma Jahangir, the secretaryHRCP, and Iqbal Haider, the chairpersonl, LPP secretary Farooq Tariq were among those who were brutally dragged into police vans and held for a couple of hours at local police stations. The police action against the congregation was taken on the orders of the Lahore Nazim, Mian Amir Mahmood, who claimed that he had disallowed the rally after receiving “negative reports” from the police. In turn, the police claimed that it had received information of an impending assault on the mixed rally by activists of the Shabab-e-Milli, the youth wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami. But eyewitness reports confirmed that a handful of such activists arrived on the scene only after the police had dragged away the women and broken up the event.

Among the others who were briefly detained were Hina Jillani, Shahtaj Qazilbash, Tahseen Ahmad, Joseph Francis, et al. Asma Jahangir was roughed up and her clothes were torn in the melee. One policewoman was heard abusing her: “We have orders to strip you in public and teach you a lesson”. Three other women were slightly injured.

The mixed-run was scheduled on Saturday at 5:00pm from Qadafi Stadium to Kalama Chowk. When the run started, the police started chasing the runners and bunging them into vans. Journalists were abused and shoved aside. The police contingent had gheraoed Ms Jahangir’s office at 5:00pm and sealed it, compelling those who had gathered in it to exit via the back door and spill over into the streets. Most of the women were taken to the Race Course police station where they chanted slogans against the “military and mullah government”. Ms Jahangir said she would file a First Information Report against the policemen who tore her clothes and manhandled her.

A spokesman for the district government said that it would have allowed the run if women participants had put on “suitable dress”, and that the run was held inside the Qaddafi stadium.

The police action was largely condemned. Daily The News and Daily Times editorialised their protes.

Daily Times May 16

EDITORIAL: Shameful and sinister sabotage of ‘enlightened moderation’

The abrasive police action in Lahore against the participants of a mixed race is highly unfortunate. The event was organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights to test the official claim of enlightened moderation. Like all things good and bad, the incident raises important questions about the nature of state and society in Pakistan.

The first question relates to pinning responsibility for the outrage committed by Lahore police. Who ordered the police to prevent the runners from running, attacking them in the process and hurling them into police vans, ‘arresting’ them and later releasing them without filing any charges? The Punjab chief minister, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, expressed his shock over the incident and blamed the city government for mishandling the situation. The city government spokesperson says city authorities would have allowed the participants to run if they had been “suitably dressed” and had held the race inside Gaddafi Stadium. However, earlier, the Lahore nazim, Mian Amer Mahmood, had been reported as saying that the city government had information from the police that groups like Shabab-e-Milli — affiliated with Jamaat-e-Islami — would attack such a gathering if the city government allowed the race.

We have reason to believe that the city government is now trying to put a technical spin on the whole episode by referring to ‘suitable dress’ etc. Asma Jehangir, the HRCP chairperson, who was manhandled by the police, told this newspaper that she received a threatening call on her cell phone from some Ahmad Salman who claimed to be the president of Shabab-e-Milli. But when Ms Jehangir returned the call to check its authenticity, “the person at the other end told me that the police had come to his tyre shop and called me [Ms Jehangir] from there”.

It is not difficult to put two and two together. The Punjab government tried to pass the buck on to the city government. The city government asked the police how to handle the situation and the police high-ups told the nazim that if the race took place some Islamist zealots might attack the rally and there would be hell to pay. Instead of providing security to the runners against such a threat, the police sought to prevent them from running because that is the easy way out.

Our assessment is that the police attitude is related to two factors: first the police is remarkably inefficient in tackling those that it most needs to tackle, i.e., the criminal troublemakers; two, most of its cadres, from the low to the high end of the spectrum, are themselves conservative and would like nothing better than to humiliate the “liberal elites”. Since the liberals do not carry weapons, as the Islamists and criminal groups do, the police have nothing to fear in terms of retaliation.

However, Ms Jehangir and Iqbal Haider (former senator and currently secretary-general of HRCP) have amply proved their point. “Enlightened moderation” lives more in rhetoric than reality. It is easier to crack down on defenceless PPP workers and citizen runners than it is to handle armed Pashtun cadres of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or thugs from the student wings of religious parties. Mr Mahmood, the nazim, should blacken his face after this episode rather than telling people that he disallowed the rally “after receiving ‘negative reports’ from the police”. Incidentally, as Ms Jehangir also told a foreign TV channel, the threat came from the police rather than Islamist zealots. Indeed, it almost seems like the few Shabab-e-Milli activists that did turn up after the police had taken care of the citizens were probably there to authenticate the nazim’s claim that the rally was in danger of being disrupted. This is more shameful than sinister. It is possible that the police raised the bogey so it could handle the situation as it ultimately did.

While Mr Mahmood comes out as the main offender, the CM cannot escape responsibility either. The local government-provincial government dichotomy is most evident where they are held by different political denominations — as in Karachi. But in Lahore that situation does not obtain and therefore tracing the whole thing back to the CM is neither difficult nor fantastic.

Similarly, the question of where and who to strike must be very clear. If a rally is under threat of attack, the police’s job is to protect the congregation and ensure its security and even try and capture the vigilantes rather than request the organisers of a lawful event to call it off. By that criterion, General Pervez Musharraf should be strapped to his sofa at home instead of being allowed to run all over the country and inconvenience everyone by his extraordinary security arrangements.

General Pervez Musharraf is the grand patriarch of this political dispensation and the sole conceptualiser of ‘enlightened moderation’. If he is genuinely upset with what his minions are doing down the line to sabotage his agenda, he should do something about it. The HRCP et al have announced a bigger mixed race a week or so down the line. This time the Punjab government should give it all the security it needs and actively encourage it. *

Daily The News , May 15

Another marathon overreaction

First the police charged peaceful demonstrations by journalists in Lahore and Islamabad, and now they've attacked the citizens' groups running in a mixed-gender marathon meant to highlight the issue of violence against women.

While it can be argued that this public event organized in Lahore on Saturday by the Human Rights Commission and other NGOs defied the imposition of Section 144, which forbids public gatherings, there is no excuse or justification for the administration's heavy-handed reaction to this breach of a law whose violation is hardly a criminal offence.

As a couple of hundred men and women gathered on the Gulberg Main Boulevard to start the run, they were heavily outnumbered by the police. The would-be runners, who included well-known lawyers and human rights activists such as Asma Jahangir, Hina Jillani and Iqbal Haider, had barely covered ten yards when the police violently baton-charged them. Several were injured; some 30 were arrested and dragged off to the nearest police station, but released later. According to the police, several of those arrested included people who were planning to disrupt the marathon.

The doublespeak of the ruling establishment is clear in its encouragement of the law enforcing agencies' use of force against those who stand precisely for the "soft image" of a liberal and progressive Pakistan that the government wants to project. Meanwhile, those from the religious right are allowed to physically attack and intimidate the citizenry with impunity, as happened during the recent Gujranwala and Sargodha marathons.

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