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November 1, 2018

Life in Karachi disrupted over Asia’s acquittal


November 1, 2018


Soon after the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi on Wednesday, some two dozen locations across Karachi became the scene of protest demonstrations and sit-ins, disrupting routine life in the metropolis.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi had called for countrywide protests on Tuesday night, asking the party’s supporters to stage sit-ins within their respective areas against the expected acquittal of Asia, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy eight years ago.

The call for protest was later joined in by other religio-political parties as well as religious groups, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F). In Karachi the demonstrations began in the morning, after TLP supporters gathered at Numaish Chowrangi, one of the city’s busiest traffic roundabouts. But panic and fear started spreading across the metropolis in the afternoon after reports began circulating on social media about the law and order situation turning violent.

Most schools in the city called in the parents to pick up their children earlier than usual due to an uncertain security situation, while the All Pakistan Private Schools Association has announced that all institutes under the organisation would remain closed on Thursday (today).

The areas affected by protests included Teen Talwar, Boat Basin, Love Lane Signal, Lyari’s Mira Naka, Merewether Tower, Shahabuddin Market, Essa Nagri towards Gharibabad, 4K Chowrangi, Five Star Chowrangi in North Nazimabad, Al-Karam Square in Karimabad, University Road, Star Gate, Hassan Square, Askari Park towards Hassan Square, Jauhar Chowrangi, Korangi No. 2½, Korangi No. 5, Godown Chowrangi, Murtaza Chowrangi, Chamra Chowrangi, Vita Chowrangi, Baloch Colony Expressway, Orangi Town, Bara Board, Mauripur Road, Paracha Chowk, 8-D Chowk, Dabba Morr on Northern Bypass, Bab-e-Khyber Metroville, Al-Asif Zero Point, Dawood Chowrangi and Maskan Chowrangi.

The protesters also blocked the highways, including the Super Highway, the National Highway, the Northern Bypass as well as both sides of the Lyari Expressway. They took to the streets in several parts of the metropolis, setting tyres on fire and placing buses and other barricades to block the flow of traffic.

Besides entire localities, markets and filling stations were also closed in some areas, as reports were received that the protesters were carrying out aerial firing to forcibly shut down all commercial activities.

The closing of the main arteries and the highways also caused commuters to remain stuck in massive traffic jams for hours. Many public transport vehicles also disappeared from the city’s roads, as did the traffic police officials.

The traffic police officials, however, started controlling the vehicular mess by evening. They also directed the people towards alternative routes to reach their respective destinations.

Heavy contingents of law enforcers were also deployed in different parts of the metropolis, while station house officers were told to stay on duty until their next orders and to increase snap-checking and patrolling in their jurisdictions.

Sindh police chief IGP Dr Syed Kaleem Imam asked his department, especially the anti-riots force and the reserve police, to stay alert. He also ordered beefing up security of religious minorities and their places of worship.

The law enforcers were no more than silent spectators, as they were not issued any orders for taking any action. “We have been asked to make arrangements to maintain law and order, but not to take action against the protesters,” said one of the police officers deployed in Sohrab Goth.

The protesters, however, did not appear as if they wished to go back home any time soon. “We are here for a cause, not merely on our leaders’ demand,” said Amir Khan, a protester in Sohrab Goth. “We shall not even go back even if our leaders ask us to end the sit-in.”

Although the city remained tense the entire day, no untoward incident was reported until the filing of this report, while the law enforcers had not arrested even a single protester for blocking the roads and pelting passing vehicles with stones.

‘Western influence’

Following the lead of the TLP, other religio-political parties as well as religious groups took to the streets to protest against the SC’s decision to overturn Asia’s capital punishment. Addressing one of the demonstrations, JI’s outgoing Karachi chief Hafiz Naeemur Rehman said that the top court had issued its verdict under the influence of the Western bloc.

He said that if the woman were to leave the country, they would believe that the government is involved in it. He criticised the media blackout on the issue and claimed that a few secular elements were controlling the media to further their interests.

He asked the people to continue to register their protest on social media. He also made a jibe at the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan for keeping mum on the issue. “The decision to release Asia must be reversed,” he warned.

The Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith leaders protesting outside the Karachi Press Club remarked that the decision would be regarded as a “black chapter” in the judicial history of the country. They said the move would encourage the people around the world who organise things like caricature contests to hurt the sentiments of Muslims.

Addressing a sit-in in Shershah, JUI-F Sindh vice-chief Qari Muhammad Usman said the SC decision has put the 220 million Muslims across the globe to shame, claiming that it would create chaos in the country. He said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is bent upon creating one crisis after another.

At the Numaish Chowrangi demonstration, TLP leader Razi Hussaini Naqshbandi warned the government that the people are standing with his party’s chief on the issue and they can act to “save the integrity of the country”. He claimed that the conviction was reverted to please Western elements.

Meanwhile, reacting to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to the nation, JI central chief Sirajul Haq said that to fight and protest over blasphemy is not a fight with the state. He was speaking at the oath-taking ceremony of Hussain Mehanti, the new Karachi chief for the party.

He said that a larger bench of the SC should conduct the hearing of the case again, adding that the PM should not stop people from protesting because it would amount to suppressing them.

High alert

IGP Imam has directed all the senior superintendents of police to monitor the law and order situation in their respective jurisdictions to ensure maintenance of peace across Sindh.

He also ordered putting the anti-riots and reserve platoons of the police department on high alert. The officials have been instructed to increase police-picketing, snap-checking and taking other security measures across the province.

The police chief directed his department to beef up the security measures at all the sensitive installations, including mosques, Imambargahs and the places of worship of the minorities. The traffic police have been directed to ensure proper deployment of traffic police officials on the main roads as well as on the alternative routes.