The Awami Workers Party (AWP) held a press conference at 3PM on Thursday at the National Press Club in Islamabad to denounce the arrests of political workers by Kohsar police on the 28th of January for peacefully protesting Manzoor Pashteen’s arrest. The workers were ultimately slapped with sedition, among other exorbitant charges.

Police Brutality Against Peaceful Protesters

President of Women’s Democratic Front and Deputy General Secretary of AWP Ismat Shahjahan, who had attended the Islamabad protest on Tuesday, related the extent of the police brutality carried out against peaceful demonstrators.

“Maria Malik and Muniba Hafeez of the Women’s Democratic Front were also thrashed along with AWP workers,” she recalled. “[The police] targeted AWP’s Nawfal Saleemi because he was wearing a helmet. The demonstration had concluded by then, and they wanted to rip off his helmet so they could rain batons down on his head.”

Protesters Given Severe Penalties

23 political workers from the AWP, PTM, PKMAP and the Mazdoor and Kisaan Party were charged for multiple offences, including sedition, disobedience to public order, hate speech, rioting, unlawful assembly as common intention, making statements conducive to public mischief no, creating fear among the public by committing offence against the State, and obstructing public servants in-charge.

Among them were Ammar Rashid – President of the AWP’s Punjab Provincial Unit, Nawfal Saleemi – a longstanding AWP worker and LUMS graduate, Saifullah Nasar – an anthropologist and AWP worker since 2017, and Shah Rukne Alam – a member of the AWP’s student wing Progressive Students Front.

“The detainees are mostly students and labourers, how will they post their bails?” Shahjahan demanded. “The more serious the charges, the more they will have to pay in bail. They don’t even have immovable properties.”

Families Barred from Meeting Protesters

The detainees have been sent on a 14-day judicial remand to Adiala Jail and their bails have been denied bail. Furthermore, their families and friends are being prevented from meeting them, despite prison rules allowing families to visit.

“We remained in the jail premises for 4 hours, trying our best to meet at least one from the 25 or so detained,” said Professor Rashida Saleemi, mother of Nawfal Saleemi. “They were driven around the city in police cars for around 2 hours, perhaps because the police were awaiting instructions on where to finally take them. They were then split up and taken to different jails. The police refused to divulge where the protesters had been taken.”

“They were peacefully protesting,” reiterated Jacqueline Berumen, wife of Ammar Rashid, carrying their infant son Isa Rashid in her arms. Speaking of her husband, she said “He was protesting for the rights of Pashtuns, as he has been for the rights of Sindhis, Balochis. He was protesting for the rights of kacchi abaadi residents and students so they are not evicted. He has protested, worked and written; he is a relentless activist and he is not a threat to this country. If anything, he is an asset to this country.”

Senators Shocked at the State’s Response

Former Senator Farhatullah Babar and former President of the Awami National Party central secretariat (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) Afrasiab Khattak expressed their shock at the State’s treatment of its intellectuals, students and rights activists.

Major Opposition Parties Questioned on Maintaining Silence

Senator Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, also criticized the major opposition parties’ silence on the arrests of AWP members and Manzoor Pashteen.

“There are opposition parties who have raked in millions of votes, but they have taken a vow of silence. They are silent because they are scared of talking about any issue. Not a single opposition party said a word on the arrest of Manzoor Pashteen and of AWP workers.

The detained political workers will be next produced in court on the 12th of February.

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