January 21st, 2022
By Hamid Riaz
Most of the Workers and activists of Sindhi nationalist and civil society organizations charged with sedition for allegedly chanting anti-state slogans during the birthday celebrations of Sindhi nationalist and cultural leader G.M Sayed have been granted pre-arrest bail by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Hyderabad on January 20th, 2022. While a young activist Mehfooz Noatkani who had already been arrested by the Jamshoro police has been remanded for 10 days.
“The court has granted all of us interim/pre-arrest bails for the time being but the matter is not closed. We will join the investigation and the next hearing is slotted for the 27th and the 29th of this month,” explains Sarang Joyo, one of the activists nominated in both the FIRs and the Joint Secretary of the Sindh Sujagi Forum (SSF), a civil society organization focusing in the release of Sindh’s missing persons.
While the civil society has expressed serious concerns at “repeated attempts” by state authorities to “discourage” participation in the annual events around the birthday celebrations of the famed Sindhi nationalist and cultural leader, G.M Sayed. The event is organized every year on January 17th at the Mazaar (shrine) of G.M Sayed located in the Sann, Jamshoro district Sindh and includes “cake cutting ceremonies, cultural activities as well as political rallies and marches.”
This year too the events were organized and much like previous years were surrounded by controversies of police high-handedness and violations of constitutional liberties. “Even before the event had started the local administration had initiated their attempts at disrupting it. On January 15th the SSP Jamsoro wrote a letter to the Deputy Commissioner Jamshoro advising for the imposition of article 144 in the district because a ‘large number of public were expected to gather at G.M Sayed’s shrine and there are credible reports of the participation of anti-state elements on the gathering’. The DC then forwarded the request to Commissioner Hyderabad who in turn ordered ‘a ban on public gatherings’ in Jamshoro on the day of the ceremony. So, you can see how the administration had already decided to crackdown on the event even before it was held,” explains Imdad Chandio, the Hyderabad Coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) speaking to VoicePk.net.
Nationalist activists and members of the public returning home from the ceremonies were rounded up by the Jamshoro police aided by the Sindh rangers. “Two FIRs were registered, one each at the Chachar and the Jamshoro police stations, against some 60 nationalist activists belonging to Sindhi nationalist political parties like the Jiye Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM), Jiye Sindh Students Federation (JSSF), Sindh United Party (SUP) and civil society organizations like the SSF. The FIRs included charges of sedition, treason as well as anti-terrorism charges, with the main charge being that of raising anti-state slogans,” elaborated Chandio.
Even before registering these FIRs, the police had launched a campaign of intimidation to deter caravans of people from reaching G.M Sayed’s shrine. “While we were on our way to Sann from Karachi our caravan of buses stopped by a contingent of police and rangers on the pretext of checking our vaccination cards. They held us there for two and half hours even after everyone on the bus showed them proof of vaccination. Some plainclothesmen were also present on the scene and demanded ID cards from four people in the bus. Later it was these four who were nominated in the FIR. It felt as if they wanted to arrest us then and there but could not do so in front of 89-90 other people,” explains Joyo.
Joyo much like Chandio asserts that Pakistani state authorities have a history of cracking down on activists participating in the annual ceremonies around G.M Sayed’s birthdays but adds that this year’s crackdown was particularly intense. “Two major things were different about this year’s crackdown. In the past, the authorities avoided registering sedition cases against female activists. While this year at least three female political activists have been booked on these charges. My own wife and the finance secretary of our organization, Sohni Joyo, have been nominated in one of the FIRs alongside me. The second most important difference I have noticed is that in previous years such cases were registered against leaders of certain nationalist political parties while this time most of those nominated are young activists or ordinary folks and families. Which tells you how afraid the state is,” explains Joyo.
Both Joyo and Candio have termed these actions by the authorities a violation of the constitution not seen even during “martial law times.”
Talking about the provincial government’s role in the entire fiasco Joyo states that “Sayed Ghani contacted us and informed us that the PPP led Sindh government had not issued orders for the imposition of article 144 or the arrest of peaceful citizens. I want to ask ‘who gave these orders then. Who are these people who are not even answerable to the democratically elected governments of our country,” asks Joyo.