Students, civil society activists, and political workers on Sunday and condemned the Punjab police for the arrests of Baloch, Pashtun and Seraiki students from Punjab University and slammed the police for treating them as ‘terrorists’.
The demonstration was organised by Progressive Students Federation (PrSF) in front of National Press Club along with Baloch, Pashtun and Sindh councils of Islamabad.
The protestors alleged that an unwritten policy of treating a certain section of students as ‘terrorists’ was being implemented in the university, which was causing an atmosphere of discontent in the campus. The protest came to light after the arrest of almost 200 students of the Punjab University last week.
196 students were arrested from Punjab University last week after a clash broke out between students of the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba (IJT) on one side and students associated with the Baloch and Pashtun councils on the other.
The overwhelming majority of arrested students consisted of Baloch and Pashtun. All of those detained were charged under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws. Reports on Sunday suggested that several of the students were released on bail and the terror charges were dropped.
Speaking at the event, PrSF organiser for Rawalpindi-Islamabad Hasrat Turi condemned the strong-arm tactics of the IJT on university campuses in Punjab.
“We condemn the violence and extremist ideology of the IJT against progressive and secular student groups, however this behaviour has been allowed to flourish on campus by the one-sided attitude of the university administration,” he said.
“Universities and colleges are where young people from all over the country should have the space to explore new ideas and debate in a safe environment. Instead, students are targeted for their ethnicities and political views by regressive forces,” Turi said.
He added “To top it off, the arrested students have been charged with carrying out terrorist acts, while at the same time the government is setting free the leaders of banned terror groups such as Maulana Sufi Mohammed and Hafiz Saeed.
PrSF member Minhaj Swati blamed the successive civilian governments inaction, who have failed to lift the decades-old restrictions placed on student unions by the martial law administration of General Zia, despite their own claims of valuing democracy.
“Democracy does not mean simply allowing citizens to vote in national elections every 5 years,” he said. A democratic society is one where democracy also exists at the local neighbourhood level, in the workplace as well as on campus” said Swati.
“It is clear that the absence of student unions — where students can have a collectively debate and settle matters in a democratic manner — only reinforced ethnic divisions and campus and promotes the use of violence to settle scores,” He added, “We demand an immediate end to the unjust restriction on student unions.”