Editorial : Crackdown on protests - Monday 18th April 2011

POLICE reportedly used batons and teargas in Karachi on Friday against traders protesting power outages. While in this case officials claimed that protesters had hurled stones at law-enforcement officers, there have been a series of recent incidents in which citizens demonstrating for various demands have suffered brutal treatment at the hands of the police. In late March, tenants claiming ownership rights of land in Khanewal were baton-charged and tear-gassed while marching to Lahore, and the injured reportedly included women and children. A few days earlier, lady health workers demanding regularisation of employment were baton-charged and tear-gassed while staging a sit-in near the Sindh-Punjab border, and violence was also used against their colleagues who later protested in Karachi about the crackdown. In February, police had used batons and water cannons against members of the Sindh education staff marching from the Karachi Press Club to the chief minister`s residence in protest against various conditions of employment.
It is clear that the general level of frustration among Pakistani citizens is rising, especially regarding their livelihoods. In addition to the demonstrations above, the Young Doctors` Association and members of Punjab`s provincial bureaucracy have staged significant protests recently. And if last year is anything to go by, loadshedding in the upcoming summer months may lead to frequent demonstrations. On a fundamental level, these incidents reflect citizens` belief that their grievances will only be heard if they protest or cause some level of disruption. However, the long-term solution lies in creating effective mechanisms through which citizens` complaints can be heard and addressed. Meanwhile, what can be changed in the short-term is the use of force and even large-scale arrests, which must not be taken lightly or resorted to easily. Too often it seems that police personnel are not trained or not willing to manage protests unless they can opt for violence. Until this culture of brutal crackdowns is overhauled from within the law-enforcement force, one fears there will be many more instances of police clashing with citizens who are simply trying to make their voices heard in a difficult economic climate.

Source: http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/18/crackdown-on-protests.html

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