Missing persons’ relatives to hold fort at D-Chowk two days after police brutality

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on May 1, 2014.

Islamabad – Relatives of missing persons and activists demanding an end to enforced disappearances continued their sit-in at the D-Chowk for the third consecutive day on Wednesday.

On an exceptionally hot last day of April in the capital, around 50 demonstrators sat under a flat canopy tent.

Led by Amina Masood Janjua, the founder of the Defence of Human Rights organisation, the demonstrators carried the portraits of their loved one who were allegedly abducted by state agencies and shouted slogans for their release from time to time.

Janjua, who has been a prominent missing persons’ activist since her husband was abducted in 2005, was among 12 demonstrators who were beaten, mishandled and detained by police on Monday from the D-Chowk.

Many more protests and some police personnel were also injured in the ensuing scuffles between police and demonstrators and the tear-gas shelling by police.

She was released from police custody four hours later on the same day after an intervention by from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. She returned to the missing persons’ camp on Jinnah Avenue after her release.

Kohsar Police nevertheless registered a case against the 12 people detained, and later released, on Tuesday. However, police have not confronted the demonstrators again since the Monday row and the police presence at D-Chowk has also been drastically reduced.

On Wednesday, the demonstrators wore white bandages on their foreheads and wrists with blood marks painted on the bandages with red markers to symbolize their protest against police torture.

Their camp, set up smack in the middle of the D-Chowk, also signified a shift in the nature of the protest.

The demonstrators had set up a temporary camp on a side-green belt of the Jinnah Avenue on Monday afternoon and did not disrupt traffic flow.

But after the police action against them, which police alleged was instigated by some demonstrators trying to move towards the Parliament House, the demonstrators occupied the main D-Chowk and have remained there since Monday evening where they plan to stay longer.

“We are going to continue the sit-in until the prime minister returns from his foreign trip,” Janjua told The Express Tribune. “We have hopes with him alone because he responded to us with kindness after the police beat us up on Monday.”

Prime Minister Sharif is currently on a five-day visit of the United Kingdom.

Janjua said the interior minister has set up an inquiry but no one from the Islamabad Capital Territory administration has contacted her to record her statement.

Human rights activist Farzana Bari also showed up at the missing persons’ camp to show solidarity. Bari said the police brutality against the missing persons’ activists was “shameful” and condemnable because the right to peaceful assembly is a constitutional right of the citizens.

She said the enforced disappearances issue has to be condemned unconditionally.

“There is no law on Earth that can justify the enforced disappearances,” Bari said.

Among the demonstrators, Faiza Naseem said her son Rizwan Yousaf has been missing from Khanewal since August 2004. She said she was told her son had died. But when she took the legal route, the case was dismissed in court on the verbal testimony of an official without any evidence of her son’s death.

“What is my crime? If my son is a criminal, I ask the authorities to produce him in court and give him a fair trial. It has been 10 years,” Naseem said. “There is no justice in Pakistan.”

Janjua and relatives of missing persons have filed individual cases with the Supreme Court. During 2013, lawyers representing the ministry of defence for the first time have told the apex court that some missing persons have been traced in internment centres and some have returned home. In late 2013, the court was also provided a list of 750 missing persons in different internment centres around the country.

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