Resisting Injustice Is Not Sedition
“It comes as a great shock…to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance…has not pledged allegiance to you.”
These words by James Baldwin have been incessantly running through my mind for the past 5 days.
On Tuesday, January 4, 2019, I along with 28 other people (including MNA Mohsin Dawar, AWP Federal Secretary Ismat Shahjahan, AWP Punjab President Ammar Rashid and AWP members Nawfal Saleemi & Saifullah Nasar) were arrested for peacefully protesting for the rights of Pashtuns, just like we have always done for the rights of Baloch, Sindhis, Kashmiris, Hazaras, religious minorities, women, and the poor.
We were standing in solidarity and exercising our constitutional right to hold our own state to account for its treatment of ordinary citizens.
At the end of the protest when everyone started dispersing, the police started attacking and brutally charging at all of us, including women. Chaos spread through the air in the fraction of a second as the police turned from purported defenders of the public peace to outright violators of it.
I had never felt so afraid, unsafe and vulnerable at the hands of the authorities whose job is to ensure safety and security of the people.I saw that they were brutally beating up my friend and comrade Nawfal Saleemi and the only words coming out of him were, “Let me go, this is a peaceful protest!” As Ismat Shahjahan rushed to save him and got thrashed in to the ground mercilessly, Muneeba Hafeez of Women’s Democratic Front tried to hold police officers back and got punched in the guts, I held onto Nawfal as tightly as I could to protect him from further attack and got punched in the neck several times.
At some point we couldn’t really count the booted men charging at him as he was swarmed by the uniformed all around him. I did not understand why this was happening to us, it made no sense. I was in physical pain but confused and jarred at this vulgar display of state brutality. We were peacefully protesting so why were they attacking us?
All of this was happening in Islamabad, the beautiful capital of Pakistan. One can only imagine what goes around in the peripheries of the country like Waziristan. Immediately after that all of us were thrown into prisoner vans and taken to Thana Kohsar F-6, Islamabad.
A couple of hours later, 23 people including AWP Punjab President Ammar Rashid, AWP members Nawfal Saleemi, and Saifullah Nasar were transferred to different detention centres. The only people left behind were Mohsin Dawar, Ismat Shahjahan, Muneeba Hafeez and myself. We were called in for a negotiation meeting with ADC Umer Randhawa and SPO Sarfaraz Malik. We were made to explain ourselves like we were criminals. Umer Randhawa strategically offered to let go of us women “out of respect” and MNA Mohsin Dawar if we would agree to throw some of our people under the bus for the sedition charges, a proposal we outrightly refused. They offered us differential treatment based on gender and class but we refused to walk away.
It was at that moment, I wondered where does all this respect for women disappear when it comes to basic human rights? They give us respect when it furthers their agenda, and thrash us when it doesn’t. Where was that respect when we were getting beaten up? And where is the respect for those 23 other academics, students and workers? What roots this discrimination? Despite our resistance, Mohsin Dawar, Ismat Shahjahan, Muneeba Hafeez and I were let go at 2:00 am in the morning while our fellows were still rotting in jails.
The hearing in court followed the next day and all 23 people still in police custody were charged for sedition and sent off to Adiala on remand. They were charged under the sections 188, 186, 147, 149, 505A, 505B, 341, 353, 124A,in simple words they were charged with sedition, rioting and disobedience
And I was still wondering, still processing, still questioning. I still couldn’t believe what had happened. Are the authorities even doing the due diligence before throwing these charges? Isn’t freedom of speech, expression, and association our constitutional right? Why are sedition charges used repeatedly against protesters and political workers? How does this make any possible sense?
The same day our legal team, including the fearless Asad Jamal, Babar Sattar and many others, filed a petition for bail and it got rejected the next day. Magistrate Shoaib Akhtar suggested adding 7-ATA to the FIR in order to make it stronger. 7-ATA? Terrorism charges? Here I was, shocked and trying to make sense.
First of all, how are they accusing these people – students, academics and day wagers – of terrorism? And second, under what law can a judge add baseless charges to the FIR? Who is controlling and pressurizing this judge to make this case into something it clearly isn’t?
Where does Imran Khan stand on the question of youth, now that he is in power? The students and young people he boasted so much about in his election campaigns are facing evictions, harassment, ethnic, gender & religious discrimination, fee hikes, political oppression and now sedition charges as well. Where does this government stand?
Where does our Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari stand? Why are these leaders only concerned with human rights violations when it comes to India, Europe, and the rest of the world but blindfold themselves when it comes to people they are responsible for? Are they aware of what the families of these people are going through? Mothers are crying for their sons, wives are yearning for their husbands, children are asking where their fathers are but everyone in this government is quiet. Why? This was my first encounter in which I witnessed the naked power of the state and its institutions, which only reaffirmed my commitment to the politics of the people.
For the past 4 days, families of those arrested have been trying to meet them but no one has been able to, despite it being a legal right. Yesterday, I accompanied Nawfal Saleemi’s mother Rashida Saleemi and Ammar Rashid’s wife Jaqueline Berumen to Adiala jail again to meet the detained activists. They spent the entire day in Adiala Jail to figure out any possible way to meet them but they couldn’t. Nawfal’s mother, Ammar’s wife and 3 year old waited for hours and returned home without even catching a glimpse of their loved ones.
I wonder why these images of mothers, wives and children who are yearning for their missing/abducted family members does not haunt the state. All they needed was to see them for a minute and reassure themselves that they were all okay. It was painful to see Nawfal’s mother trying to hold onto everything she could to not breakdown. It was painful to see Jaqueline trying so hard to keep herself together. None of that made any difference as the officers in Adiala jail had received strict orders to not let anyone meet because of pressure from the establishment I wondered again about our laws and how they can be abused to prevent families from even meeting.
Our 23 people are now in high-security barracks and are not allowed any visitors.
Our constitutional rights have been violated. Prisons have major transparency and accountability issues and apparently prison reforms are nowhere on the political agenda for any of the mainstream political parties.
Before I conclude, I’d like to reiterate the crimes of these 23 people. Their crime is that they possess the critical consciousness to stand for the oppressed ethnicities, nationalities, women & religious minorities. Their crime is that they have managed to step out of their individual lives and speak & fight for those who can’t and work towards building a people’s politics. Their crime is their politics of resistance. Their crime is demanding a system that protects the people, not power & profit. Their crime is to imagine an alternative system where one does not have to pay with their blood to ensure shelter, education, health & safety. Their crime is their struggle for revolution and a better tomorrow.
And it is this struggle for an equal society that keeps us all in AWP together even after getting arrested, attacked, threatened and jailed. Despite the state atrocities and becoming aware of the fact that the flag to which we have pledged allegiance to, has not pledged allegiance to us, we will continue to resist and not get silenced regardless of the intimidation and pressurizing tactics.
We are standing tall, and no matter how many we are, our spirits will not be doused.
gar baazī ishq kī baazī hai jo chāho lagā do Dar kaisā
gar jiit ga.e to kyā kahnā haare bhī to baazī maat nahīñ
Maria H. Malik is Women Secretary of Awami Workers Party Islamabad-Rawalpindi