Stamping protest: Police puts 100 farmers behind bars for ‘obstructing traffic’

LAHORE: Police manhandled and picked up as many as 100 members of the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) who were protesting in front of the Press Club on Wednesday. They were later released on the chief minister’s instructions.

PKI president Khalid Khokar said PKI members from several southern districts of the province had arrived in Lahore to register their protest against the government. The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in the Constitution, he said.

Allah Ditta, a farmer from Chichawatni, said they had held a peaceful demonstration at 10am in front of the Punjab  Assembly on Tuesday. “Today we gathered at the Press Club but the police manhandled and hit us with batons…they literally threw us into police vehicles,” he said. Khokar said they had been protesting against the price of cotton that the government had announced earlier. “It is so low that we cannot purchase wheat seeds… The cost of cultivation has gone up while our profit margins are no more,” he bemoaned. He said they had repeatedly requested the government to address the major issues they were faced with. “We have asked for a decrease in the GST on pesticides, subsidy on electricity to operate tube-wells, and a waiver of installment payments of tube-wells,” he said.  Ghulam Haider Shah, one of the protesters,said they had asked the government to end trade of agricultural goods with India because the farmers there enjoyed more incentives and support from the government than in Pakistan.

One of the DSPs leading the operation to arrest protesters told reporters that he had received instructions to arrest the farmers from police high-ups. When asked what crime they had committed, he replied that they had tried to block a road.“Protesting is not a crime but obstructing traffic is… this is why we were told to arrest them,” he said.

Muhammad Boota, another protester,said the government had first tried to stop them from traveling to Lahore to register their protest. “Today they arrested 100 farmers who were protesting peacefully.” Earlier this month, as many as 25 farmers in Vehari were arrested after police tried to disperse their demonstration on the Multan Road. Vehari DPO Sadiq Dogar said the farmers associated with the Kissan Ittehad Pakistan were “obstructing flow of traffic on the road”.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2015.

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