Stifling legitimate protests in Balochistan may spark violence

In a shocking move, Balochistan Governor Syed Zahoor Agha issued a Criminal Law Balochistan Amendment Ordinance which bans meetings, rallies and sit-ins on national highways to ensure free movement of people

Mannan Samad Dec 10, 2021
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Protests in Balochistan (Photo: Dawn)

In a shocking move, Balochistan Governor Syed Zahoor Agha issued a Criminal Law Balochistan Amendment Ordinance which bans meetings, rallies and sit-ins on national highways to ensure free movement of people. According to various provisions of the ordinance, violators can be punished with imprisonment of three to six months and fined Rs 10,000. The violators can be arrested without a warrant. 

The general public, civil society, lawyers and politicians are seething with anger over the controversial ordinance terming it 'unlawful' and 'unconstitutional'. Article 16 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan grants every citizen the right to freedom of peaceful assembly including meetings, sit-ins, strikes, rallies, events or protests. The provincial government’s action is an affront to the Constitution.

Mass anger 

Balochistan is reeling from a wave of multiple protests carried out in various parts of what is Pakistan's largest province. This ordinance is clearly aimed at suppressing these demonstrations. In the port city of Gwadar, people are protesting under the umbrella of 'Give Gwadar the Right, Give Balochistan the Right' movement. There have been prolonged boycott of classes and semester examinations in the University of Balochistan by Baloch Student Organizations demanding the safe recovery of students Fasieh Baloch and Sohail Baloch, who went missing from a hostel.  

The ordinance is aimed at targeting the peaceful movement of Gwadar led by Maulana Hidayat-Ur-Rehman and the student organizations. It is also a brazen tactic to stamp out the sit-in of the Young Doctors Association in the red zone of Quetta. Some doctors have also been arrested.

It is the sheer failure of the Pakistani State if citizens are compelled to take to the streets and chant slogans against the violation of their rights. Instead of listening to their grievances and upholding their basic rights, the State has decided to clamp down on peaceful rallies and protests in order to shrink the space for freedom of expression and crush differing views.

Balochistan fascism 

This fascist attitude shows the gross incompetency of the Balochistan government. It has been said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism but the authoritarian government is relying upon brute force to muzzle dissenting voices.

Stifling legitimate voices through ordinances will further intensify the miseries of people and trigger mass outrage and discontent. It would not be an exaggeration to state that peaceful protests may turn violent if the regime chooses to handle protesters with an iron fist. As always, the ultimate onus will lie on the government if its actions unleash terror, violence and bloodshed.

(The writer is a columnist based in Quetta, Balochistan. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at mannansaamad@gmail.com) 

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