Police blocked the CTI Ground in Sialkot early on Saturday, and stopped the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) from staging a rally on the site without consent from its owners.
On Friday, the district administration had rejected the PTI’s request for a rally at the CTI Ground after the local Christian community had objected to the use of their property for a political gathering. In a letter dated May 9, Reverend Ishaq Masih of the Presbyterian Church CTI had urged the deputy commissioner of Sialkot to stop the PTI’s rally, as it was being organized without permission.
“This is to inform you that PTI has arranged a public gathering in CTI School ground without any permission from our head office,” it read. “The said ground is used for prayer meetings during the Sialkot Convention each year. Kindly arrange some other place as the church organization does not want the use of ground for any other purpose except Annual Prayer Meeting during Sialkot Convention,” it added.
“We have stopped the PTI from holding a public meeting at the CTI ground on the request of the Christian community,” Deputy Commissioner Imran Qureshi told media after police launched a crackdown against PTI workers who were attempting to prepare the ground for their rally. They also arrested senior PTI leader Usman Dar and several other party workers from the venue after they resisted attempts to vacate the venue. Video footage of the arrests shows several PTI workers being baton-charged for resisting the police’s attempts to vacate the venue. Tear-gas shells were also fired on the crowd to disperse it.
Similarly, the Sialkot district police officer told the PTI that they were free to arrange a rally at a venue in the city where they had secured permission to do so. However, he stressed, they had not been granted the right to stage a rally at a private property and had to find an alternate venue.
He said that the Christian community had approached the Lahore High Court, which had directed the district administration to stop the PTI from holding its rally on the CTI Ground. “We are ready to give PTI an alternate place for public gathering,” he added.
Speaking with media on Saturday afternoon, PTI leader and former education minister Shafqat Mahmood reiterated his party’s calls for early elections, claiming this would grant the people’s mandate to a government to try and resolve the country’s issues. Calling for all detained PTI workers to be released, he said the party should be allowed to organize its rally in Sialkot without hindrance. He claimed the party would no longer stage its rally at CTI Ground and would instead shift the venue to a cricket ground.
He said that, no matter what, PTI Chairman Imran Khan would reach Sialkot today to address his supporters, adding that the “imported” government’s “illegal” acts would not be allowed to succeed.
“I will be going to Sialkot today, let there be no doubt,” Khan said in a series of posts on Twitter. “What imported government did in Sialkot against our leadership and workers is outrageous, but not unexpected. This bunch of criminals out on bail and their convict mafia boss in London have always used fascist tactics against opponents when they are in power—storming of Supreme Court, Model Town murders, bribing judges, Nawaz Sharif trying to declare himself Amirul Momineen,” he said. “They use and abuse democracy when in opposition and totally destroy all democratic norms when in power. But people have now risen against them. Our government never stopped any of their jalsas, sit-ins, rallies because we are committed to democracy. I will be in Sialkot today and I am calling on all our people to come out and protest in their areas/cities after Isha prayers against this fascist imported government,” he added.