05/16/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Police stops demonstration because of women's presence

by Qaiser Felix
Demonstrators sought to highlight plight of women, victims of violence. After their arrest, they slammed the government for using force against fundamental rights, which, they claim, encourages extremism.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – During a peaceful march in Lahore last Saturday, May 14, human rights activists sought to highlight the plight of women who are victims of violence. However, they were charged by police because it included women.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Joint Action Committee for People's Rights (JAC) had jointly organised the event in order to raise public awareness about the plight of women in Pakistani society.

After being charged by the police, some demonstrators were arrested and released some hours later; among them, HRCP chairperson Asma Jehangir, and JAC convenor Shah Taj Qizalbash.

The police also detained activists from the Shabab-i-Milli, the youth wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami, who had tried to stop the 'gender mixed' event.

The HRCP sharply reacted to the police action, calling it a "brutal act" that showed the authorities anti-women bias and their contempt for basic liberties.

"The brutality of the police in preventing what was intended to be a peaceful event has unmasked the true face of the state. Sadly, such thuggish behaviour has increasingly become the norm in the city, as a means to prevent basic rights, including those of assembly," the HCRP said a news release issued later in the evening.

Before the event, organizers faced police intimidation and harassment designed to forced them to call it off.

"Such behaviour surely goes against the so-called 'enlightened moderation' that the country's rulers so fervently insist they are attempting to promote," the press release said.

"Forcibly preventing women [from] participation in public events can act only to encourage extremism. . . . It is among the duties of the state to protect citizens staging rallies and other events to draw attention to their concerns".

Several human rights groups and a few political leaders have condemned the police action. The All Pakistan Minority Alliance called it 'inhumane and anti-democratic".

According to Ejaz Ghauri, president of the Christian Progressive Movement, the government is caving in to religious extremists as it does over issues regarding minorities and women.

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