June 27, 2020

By Maqbool Jaffar


Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court Jamal Khan Mandokhail has ordered Additional Inspector General (AIG) Police Abdul Razzaq Cheema to submit a complete inquiry report in court promptly on June 25.

On Wednesday, dozens of students held a protest rally in Quetta to demand an end to online classes until everyone has easy access to the internet across Pakistan and its administered areas. Instead of having their demands heard, they were faced with batons, guns and manhandling by the police while marching from Quetta Press Club towards the Balochistan High Court.

Police were rough with the protestors, dragging them and pushing them into their vans. Around 70 students including women were taken into police custody from the protest rally and moved to City and Cantt police stations.

Speaking to Voicepk.net from inside the prison van, student activist Mahrang Baloch said, “The police knows us as only ‘miscreants’ because we are demanding our very basic right to education.”

She stated that they were only protesting against the Higher Education Commission’s policy of online education during the pandemic because many areas of Balochistan have zero access to the internet, which is a basic right, but because they asked for it, they were beaten up by the police.

“We want an end to this discriminatory class based education system and I demand the students of Balochistan to come and snatch their rights,” added Baloch.

Another student, Nimra Baloch said that they only had books in their hands.

“These people are afraid of books and that is why they have increased the security budget and reduced the education budget,” she said after being dragged to the police van.

Lawmakers Condemn Attack 

Members of the opposition in the Balochistan Assembly condemned the arrest of students for demanding better quality of education.

Sanaullah Baloch of BNP-Mengal told the house that there is a complete ban on the internet in 9 out of 33 districts of Balochistan.

According to him, if the government can spend billions on income support and cash programs then it should also be able to spend some money to get internet packages for the children of Balochistan but the members of the house never discuss these things with each other.

“We have lots of G-3 but no 3G in Balochistan and that is why we have been asking the government to spend more on Information Technology and education so that students of Balochistan also get an equal opportunity to learn by international standards,” he said.

Another member of the provincial assembly from Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awam Party (PKMAP), Nasrullah Zehri believes that it is okay to have online classes since the campuses have been closed due to the pandemic but the government should ensure the availability of required devices and internet for all first.

“Areas like Musakhel, Sherani, Kharan and more do not have any internet connectivity even when the government can easily resolve this issue,” he said.

He also shared his personal experience of facing at least 10 to 11 hours of power cuts in Quetta while making a comparison to power cuts of up to 17 hours faced by students in the peripheral areas of Quetta while they were bound to attend online classes.

“Our students cannot even charge their devices let alone having a connection,” said Zehri.

Although the spokesman of the Balochistan Government, Liaqaut Shahwani said that the students were arrested for violating the SOPs and Section 144 during the pandemic the Chief Minister Balochistan did not take responsiblity for any such action and tweeted, “No students arrest was ordered by the Government, it was a quarrel among police and students in which police acted and arrested. Immediately police were ordered to release the students. SP City is removed from his post and appropriate action shall also be taken against the lady constable for this mishandling.”

The students were released after a Balochistan Assembly MPA, Shakila Naveed submitted surety bonds for all the arrested students around midnight. After being released, students once again staged a demonstration outside the Balochistan assembly with the same demands along with an end to police brutality.

Student leader, Muzammil Khan, who was released on Wednesday night spoke to Voicepk.net and condemned the arrests of students pointing out how the number of student protesters had doubled the next day as a reaction.

Muzammil Khan is also the Convenor of the nationwide Students Action Committee which organised the historic Students Solidarity March in more than 50 areas of Pakistan and administered areas on November 29 last year.

“We want to wake up the government now, this is why all kinds of students have joined hands to show that this kind of violence cannot divide, silence or stop us from demanding our rights anymore,” said Khan.

On Thursday, students in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and many other areas also took the streets to condemn the violence and police brutality upon the students in Quetta.