Wednesday, October 25, 2023

By Xari Jalil


Tuesday evening’s raid by the Islamabad police on the office of a think tank where a discussion program was to be held, has left the civil society angry and incensed, with many questioning the limits of free speech in the country.

Those attending the panel discussion on ‘Afghans facing Deportation’, said that police came quietly inside the room and stopped the panelists from starting the program.

The Black Hole is a small community hall located in Sector G 11. It is known for various discussions in recent months including on topics in the fields of arts and culture, physics, economics and politics among others.

The panel consisted of three speakers: former Senator Afrasiab Khattak, and journalists Hassan Khan (group editor of Khyber TV) as well as Afghan community representative Haji Raz Muhammad. The discussion was moderated by journalist Sajid Azhar. Many students from Baloch University

According to details provided by Afrasiab Khattak, the police came and took the panelists aside, keeping the discussion on hold for at least two hours.

On Tuesday evening, Khattak wrote an angry tweet about this.

On Wednesday, while speaking to Voicepk, Khattak was far more sarcastic about the situation, ridiculing the way things were being handled by the state.

“I have grown old spending decades in Pakistani politics,” he said. “Sadly though the culture of our politics has not changed a single bit over these decades.”

Khattak says that some time ago, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) held a program on similar themes, but there was no intervention then.

“Perhaps it is because this program was smaller in scale, but I think they reached a little earlier than they did in the HRCP program. The topic has definitely unnerved the powers that be,” he said. “If there is any discussion on the Afghan community nowadays, especially if their deportation is being questioned, the government is ready to crack down upon it. A similar event was stopped in Peshawar recently, when Peshawar Police arrested Hayat Roghani, the CEO of “Mafkoora” from in front of Peshawar Press Club, for holding a political parties conference on the issue of Afghan citizens in Pakistan and their solution.”

Jamila Gillani, who was one of the organizers of the event says that this is not the first time it happened.

“When we got out of the event, the police was standing there,” she said while speaking to Voicepk. “At first we just assumed they were on duty since the police station as quite nearby.”

However the police went on and arrested the main speaker of the event Roghani.

“So many people are born here, and have been living since 30 or 40 years, but their lives are just instantly ruined,” she said. “There is a vegetable mandi near my house and they have been harassing those who have lived here since their birth, since decades. And even though they haven’t been deported yet, the police cracks down on them relentlessly. People are extremely worried with this kind of state policy..”

At the Black Hole police had orders to cancel the event, although there were no written orders. Some of the police officers also manhandled the staff members and threw one of them in the police vehicle.

Even though the panelists agreed they not back down, Afrasiab Khattak and Sajid Azhar refused to budge.

SHO Mr Khan, when contacted, denied that the police raided The Black Hole.

He said the police had reached the venue and only asked for an NOC (no objection certificate) from the organisers of the programme as Section 144 of the CrPC was imposed on capital by the city administration.

“I was told by a magistrate (who was brought in later), that this was being stopped because of the imposition of Section 144,” said Khattak. “However my question to them was, is Section 144 applied to a private meeting in a private place? But they did not have any answer for me.”


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