By Farooq Sulehria
Lahore: Hundreds of citizens, mainly women, succeeded in making
a symbolic protest in defence of civil liberties in the form of
a "mixed micro-marathon" from Liberty Round Gulberg to
Qaddafi Stadium on May 21 afternoon after being afforded full protection
by the police, according to Daily Times.
Full Report by Daily Times: The mixed-run, announced by the Human
Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Joint Action Committee
(JAC) for Peoples Rights, was given permission to hold the rally
only on Saturday morning by Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi
who also assured full security to the organisers of the event.
Some police high ups told Daily Times that the Punjab government
had decided to permit the HRCP to hold the race on Friday night
but deliberately did not tell the organisers until Saturday morning.
"They did this both to avoid the possibility of any trouble
from the mullahs and to ensure that many potential participants,
especially women, would stay away from the rally fearing trouble
and participation would not swell to threatening proportions",
said one source. Heavy contingents of police were deployed everywhere
on the Main Boulevard in Gulberg near Liberty Chowk and the police
did not obstruct the rallys progress at any stage.
Indeed, at one point, Asma Jahangir, HRCP chairperson, was allowed
to climb on to the bonnet of a police jeep and address the participants
(see picture). The "micro-marathan" also attracted significant
local and international media coverage.
The participants gathered at the Liberty Chowk in small and big
groups and chanted slogans against mullahism. Slogans like "Mullahism
Murdabad", "Stop terrorism of mullahs", "We
want our rights", "No rule of bullet and baton",
"We want Quaid-e-Azams Pakistan", were screamed
full-throatedly from start to finish. PPP leaders Qasim Zia, Rana
Aftab Ahmad and others also gave token support.
The "race" started at 5:00 pm sharp with the blowing
of a whistle by Asma Jahangir, who wore a sweatshirt over her
shalwar-kameez that was emblazoned with the slogan "No going
back." A number of civil society groups and representatives
of different political parties, especially Pakistan Peoples Party,
and a number of dignitaries of the city also joined the mixed-run,
which ended peacefully and cheerfully outside the Qadafi Stadium.
"This is not a matter of victory or defeat for anyone,"
said Asma Jahangir after the event. "It is a proof of enlightenment,
of liberalism and respect for civil rights," she claimed.
She said: "I salute you people for attending the marathon
for your rights."
Earlier, a few people from some extremist groups like Ahl-e-Hadith
Youth Force, Shahbab-e-Milli and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, led
by Hafiz Salman Butt MNA and a local JUI-F leader Maulana Saifullah
Saif, also staged a counter demonstration near Liberty Chowk before
the mixed-run started but they were stopped by the police from
advancing towards the mixed-runners. However, they continued to
raise anti-liberal slogans.
The symbolic mixed-run was announced by the HRCP and JAC in protest
against the violent MMA attack on the mixed-runers by the city
police last Saturday in Lahore and last month in Gujranwala.
"This was a win-win situation for both Punjab CM Pervez
Elahi and the HRCP/JAC", said one senior journalist. "Mr
Elahi can claim he has promoted a soft and democratic image of
Pakistan by allowing and protecting the rally and the Organisers
can claim that they didnt succumb to government pressure
or mullah threats against the rally."
Farooq Tariq , Secretary Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), narrates
his experiance in a report circulated on firstname.lastname@example.org
The story of Lahore Marathon for civil liberties
Last night, on 20th May, I was once again called by the Superintendent
of Police of Lahore. He told me not to attend the Lahore Marathon
as it violated the law. I told him not to violate our right to
assemble and that JAC as well as Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) activists
in Lahore will be there. He threatened me of dire consequences
in case I participate. I refused to budge.
Joint Action Committee for Peoples Right (JAC) had given call
for a Mix Lahore Marathon on 21st May, after an unsuccessful attempt
on 13th May. Over 40 of us were arrested on 13th May while trying
to run jointly that is to say women and men together. The JAC
is an alliance of 30 social and political organizations. LPP is
an active member of JAC. I was elected as one of the seven organizing
members of Lahore Marathon.
The Lahore police and the local administration had declared the
race as an illegal act. We did not ask for the permission rather
informed the Lahore administration about the event. The Lahore
Mayor in a public statements warned of the possible arrests if
the race went ahead.
Religious fundamentalists had threatened to stop the race by
force. They had statements in all the national media saying point
blank that only over their dead bodies a joint marathon would
take place. The JAC refused to buw in the face of these threats.
We also went to the press with same defiance saying marathon would
go ahead at any cost.
The Musharaf regime and the religious fundamentalist were united
in stopping the Lahore marathon. The race exposed the united Mullah
Military Alliance (MMA: abbreviation for fundamentalist alliance
Muttahida Majlis e Amal is often termed as Mullah Millitary Alliance
to ridicule MMA) despite all the rhetoric both engage in to show
if they are not partners.
Earlier on the day on 20th, a JAC meeting was attended by over
40 with a mood of defiance. We argued that a marathon despite
all the threats by the regime and the Mullahs would give a massive
boost to the progressive forces in Pakistan. But if we failed
and cancelled the race, then Lahore would also be under the political
control of the religious fundamentalists. The fanatics had already
stopped by force a joint marathon on 3rd April 2005 in another
big city of Pakistan, Gujranwala, 60 kilometer from Lahore.
We argued that our defense would be participation of our activists
in large numbers and that if police stopped us, we would resist.
Today, I arrived in the morning with four LPP activists at a
proposed place to meet Asma Jehanghir as had been agreed in the
meeting. It was decided that we would shield Asma in case of an
attack. The Senior Superintendent of Police in Lahore requested
Asma Jahangir this morning to change the rout of the Lahore Marathon
and that it was still illegal to hold the rally. But the mood
of the SSP seemed changed. Last night, I ignored the advices from
the comrades to not to sleep at my home and decided to stay at
home with the family, despite a real threat of being arrested.
After consultation with the crisis committee we agreed to change
the route but not the marathon. It was not a big deal. We arrived
at Asma house at 2.30pm nearby the Liberty Chouck from where the
race had to began at 5pm. We were getting reports that religious
fundamentalists were coming to the place and that police had cordoned
off the place.
The LPP comrades did not come to the center today, as this was
too risky. We had planned our LPP strategy after the JAC meeting.
We left from Asma house at around 4.45pm with around 100 or so.
There was a lot of media including BBC and Reuters. We were not
stopped by police as they had announced. It meant that they had
retreated. When we reached the Liberty Chouck, several hundreds
more were waiting for us. The main slogans of the Marathon were
: down with mullah military alliance, down with Mushraf, we will
snatch our civil liberties, where are the mullahs, Mullahs have
run away, No to religious fanaticism, no to mullahism. Apart from
LPP, Pakistan Peoples Party leadership also participated in the
The religious fanatics came in their dozens but were stopped
by the police. They did not dare break the barriers erected by
the police. They used filthy language. Their case against the
race was that joint marathon was against Islamic culture. They
had a weak case.
On our side, there was a fighting mood and fighting spirit. We
as the leaders of this marathon had shown that we would fight
and were not afraid of the religious fanatics. It paid back. Many
youth came from different city colleges.
There were over 200 women and may be 500 men. I was hand in hand
with Asma when we started the race as a symbol of men and women
running together. At the Qazafi stadium, Asma and I climbed a
parking police van to speak to the participants. She in her very
short speech thanked Lahorites for their participation and that
Lahore has won, the religious fanatics have lost. She asked every
one to disperse peacefully.
There was lot enthusiasm for this successful Lahore Marathon
for civil liberties. This has motivated many. This has shown many
that we can fight against the growing onslaught of the religious
Below is a comemnt by renowned journalist Beena Sarwar in The
News on Sunday ( May 22) on previous marathon and police violence.
Pakistan continues to hit headlines around the world for all
the wrong reasons. On May 3, it was the journalists that the Islamabad
and Lahore police roughed up as they demonstrated on World Press
Freedom Day. Barely ten days later, on May 14, human rights activists
got the rough end of the stick as they geared up for a symbolic
run in Lahore, to assert the right of women to public space.
The women who were leading the run were especially targeted,
in particular the lawyer Asma Jahangir who has become a symbol
of the human rights movement in Pakistan.
The point is not that these people were violating Section 144,
which prohibits the assembly of more than four people in a public
place. As Asma Jahangir says, even if they had committed murder,
the police had no right to humiliate the women and try to expose
Secondly, Section 144 is routinely imposed in our cities, most
often to restrict the public mobility of political opponents;
somehow it never seems to apply to the 'bearded brigade' that
are allowed to hold 'million marches' and attack women participating
in a marathon, as in Gujranwala not so long ago. Why did they
not attack anyone at the Lahore marathon on January 30 this year?
It was the success of that event that led the Punjab Sports Board
to plan a series of other marathons, including Gujranwala.
The government then tacitly accepted the religious extremists'
point of view, releasing those who had led the Gujranwala attack
and holding the remaining marathons as segregated events. MMA
activists armed with sticks stood around menacingly outside the
Sargodha stadium inside which the women ran -- their restriction
to this confined space defeating the very purpose of a marathon
which means a long distance run -- having announced that they
would teach any woman a lesson who dared try and run outside.
The police stood by watching.
Similarly, when a welfare trust in Khairpur wanted to hold a
fund-raising all-women event, the police initially refused to
grant them permission on the grounds that the 'religious' group
active in the area would not like it. (So now, as one women's
rights activist put it, we're reduced to taking permission from
the mullahs to hold public events.)
When Khairpur Nazim Nafisa Shah directed the police to allow
the fund-raiser to take place, its organisers found the ground
taken over by the so-called religious activists, who prevented
the mela from starting for some nine hours as the police watched
meekly. Finally, Ms Shah managed to negotiate for the event to
take place at an alternative venue. But there too, the mullahs
raised objections at the last minute, insisting that the ferris
wheel would not be allowed, as boys outside would be able to see
the girls at the top.
This time, Ms Shah refused to negotiate further, and the nervous
organisers held the event as planned. The 'religious' activists
then demonstrated outside her office and in the market place,
undisturbed by the police, hurling the choicest, most unprintable
invectives. Their actions, apparently, are exempt from offending
'religious sentiments', or falling in the realm of 'obscenity'
Policemen and women themselves, while attacking the participants
of the symbolic Lahore marathon recently, used the filthiest language
against women -- including words and phrases that many of those
present had never heard before. They dragged women by the hair,
and tore clothes. The policewoman who attacked Asma Jahangir and
ripped her shirt open, exposing the back, said she had orders
to strip and humiliate Asma in public. In doing this, she was
egged on by a (bearded) plainclothesman. Three policewomen who
apparently disapproved of this activity told some marathon participants
that this woman was especially trained to tear women's clothes,
particularly at PPP rallies.
The administration initially justified the police presence as
necessary to protect the activists from the Jamaat's student wing
which allegedly was threatening to disrupt the event. "Instead
of preventing them, the administration decided to stop the race,"
comments a participant. "In fact the religious activists
were not even there and came after the police action, most probably
at the administration's request."
Some defend what happened on the grounds that the marathon participants
were violating Section 144. One response to the news report of
the incident, posted on an email list, sums up this point of view
aptly: "It has been highlighted as violation of human rights
but I personally agree that whatever govt, police did was right.
As section 144 was already imposed then y did hrcp want to have
marathon? The best remedy was that hrcp should have gone into
a logical dialogue and requested government to allow them for
The writer, who is incidentally a woman, concludes that Asma
Jahangir "is responsible for her insult torn clothes and
arrests of other human rights activists."
This reasoning betrays two lines of thinking that are detrimental
to democratic values. One is that if the government chooses to
be unreasonable and deny citizens public space for a demonstration
meant to highlight the right of women to that public space, the
citizens should meekly go home.
The second, more sinister line of thinking, is that if a woman
transgresses in any way, she is herself responsible for any subsequent
attack on her person. It is this mindset that justifies rape,
murder in the name of 'honour' (karo kari, as this is known in
some areas), domestic violence, and acid attacks.
Public processions and demonstrations are rarely segregated events
in Pakistan. That has never been an issue before. As the HRCP
said in a press release following the police action, "Forcibly
preventing participation in public events by women can act only
to encourage extremism, and send out a message to orthodox elements
that their actions are condoned by the state."
It is these elements that are making women's participation in
public events into an issue. They openly admire the Taliban, black
out women's faces on billboards, and are against girls' education,
going to the extent of blowing up girls' schools -- as they did
recently in Bajaur agency.
It is these elements that the government claims to stand against
-- yet tacitly encourages by falling in line with their agendas,
and using them as an excuse to crush those it should be supporting.
The marathon was widely covered by the national media