The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) changed the venue for its Sialkot rally to VIP cricket ground on Saturday after the police stopped its workers from preparing the CTI ground for the public gathering on the grounds that it did not have the permission to hold a rally there.
Members of the minority community had protested and filed a writ petition against the use of the church land for political purposes.
Sialkot District Police Officer (DPO) Hasan Iqbal announced that the venue had been changed. Following the party’s decision the SDPO announced that the police will ensure provision of complete security to the party’s rally.
“Former prime minister Imran Khan will be provided security according to his rank,” the DPO stated, adding that the rally was stopped at CTI grounds in efforts to not hurt the sentiments of the Christian community.
Earlier in the day, PTI workers were stopped by police and the district administration of Sialkot from arranging a rally at the CTI ground with law enforcement resorting to tear gas and batons to disperse the party supporters who resisted the move.
During the dispute, the police arrested PTI leader Usman Dar and several other party activists after permission to hold a rally at the earlier venue had been denied by DC Imran Qureshi.
Footage showed police personnel at the CTI ground, with PTI activists standing on top of a stationary crane in what seemed to be an attempt to prevent the LEAs from dismantling rally preparations. Clouds of tear gas could also be seen in the footage.
Police arrested Usman Dar, Umar Dar, Hafiz Hamid Raza, Ali Asjad Malhi, Mehr Kashif, Saeed Ahmed, and Barrister Jamshed Ghias.
Sialkot District Police Officer (DPO) Hasan Iqbal stated that the ground had been evacuated and no one was detained.
He maintained that the PTI attempted to hold a rally without permission in a place of worship, which was not permitted, and that the district administration had asked them to relocate the rally.
In videos doing the rounds on social media, the Sialkot DPO while talking to PTI members could be heard saying that no one was preventing the party from holding a rally in Sialkot. However, the ground on which they stood were the private property of the Presbyterian American society.
“You have not taken due permission from them [the owners of the venue] and they are a minority group,” he added.
The DPO questioned if the state of Pakistan would not stand up against other groups who would arrive at a location without fulfilling the due processes.
‘Site in question is private property’
According to a writ petition filed with the deputy commissioner of Sialkot by the Christian community, the “site in question is a private property in the name of “American Mission” … and is in close proximity to the Cantonment Area”.
The petitioner – as well as several other organisations representing the Christian community – pleaded that the site held a religious sanctity to Christians across the country and “holding a political gathering at the said place may hurt the religious sentiments of the Christian community at large which can lead to a law and order situation”.
Deputy Commissioner Sialkot Imran Qureshi said that the political gathering could not be held at a private place and that the authorities would permit the party to hold their rally in any other place.
“The relocation is requested because the site is privately owned by the American Church,” he added.
Imran still ‘going to Sialkot’
Following the ruckus, PTI chairperson and former premier Imran Khan took to his Twitter handle to announce that he would still go to Sialkot.
“What [the] imported government did in Sialkot against our leadership and workers is outrageous, but not unexpected,” he said.
“This bunch of criminals out on bail & their convict mafia boss in London have always used fascist tactics against opponents”.
I will be going to Sialkot today, let there be no doubt. What Imported Govt did in Sialkot against our ldrship & workers is outrageous, but not unexpected. This bunch of criminals out on bail & their convict mafia boss in London have always used fascist tactics against opponents
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) May 14, 2022
PTI member Usman Dar claimed that holding a rally was the party’s constitutional legal right.
“We were told a day ago to change the venue,” he said, emphasising that party chief Imran Khan would come to Sialkot regardless. “Put us in jails but the rally will be held,” he declared.
According to the party’s media coordinator, Usman Dar and other leaders were being arrested and taken to Narowal Jail.
PTI vice chairperson and former minister for foreign affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that this was not the first rally and that the PTI had conducted several peaceful gatherings in various cities inside and outside of Punjab.
“For our rally in Sialkot today, the local administration and party leadership had already communicated,” he claimed, adding that the PTI had requested and received permission to hold their rally.
Qureshi further stated that there were no impediments and no legal problems till last night when the relevant authorities were planning security arrangements with party leaders.
“Then there was a call from the higher-ups and the authorities’ attitude changed completely,” he said.
The former minister stated that the new orders seemed to have emerged from London – where PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif currently resides.
Qureshi questioned why the authorities, under whom the PTI had held numerous peaceful rallies, were so determined to ruin the atmosphere today.
Protection of minorities’ rights
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Vice President Maryam Nawaz took to her official Twitter handle to state that it was the primary responsibility of the government to protect the rights of all minorities living in Pakistan.
“For several days now, the Christian community has been protesting that a rally at church grounds is an insult to their place of worship,” she said.
حکومت کی اولین ذمے داری،پاکستان میں بسنے والی تمام اقلیتوں کے حقوق کی رکھوالی ہے۔کئی دنوں سے مسیحی برادری اس بات پر سراپا احتجاج ہے کہ چرچ کی گراونڈ میں جلسہ انکی عبادت گاہ کی توہین ہے۔ جلسہ کرنا تمھارا حق ہے، مذہبی جذبات کو ٹھیس پہنچانا نا تمھارا حق ہے نا تمھیں اس کی اجازت ہوگی۔ pic.twitter.com/nwDSQwjs1M
— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) May 14, 2022
Maryam maintained that it was the PTI’s right to hold a rally but it was not their right to hurt religious sentiments and that they would not be allowed to do so.
PML-N member Khalil Tahir Sindhu stated that the PTI has resorted to bullying, and the political use of church land has hurt the sentiments of the Christian community.
“It is wrong to hold a political meeting at any holy place and conducting a rally on church land is not allowed. The PTI was not given permission by a court, nor by the deputy commissioner,” he said, adding that Usman Dar had resorted to bullying which would not be tolerated.
Christian community protests
The Christian community of Lahore protested against the rally on Mall Road.
The community maintained that the CTI ground was their property where annual religious festivals and educational activities took place.
They claimed that they had requested the district administration to stop the PTI’s political rally, which had offended their sentiment.