Yesterday’s baton charge and torture of students protesting fee hikes at Peshawar University has drawn intense flak from Pakistani’s from all walks of life, with many severally criticizing the government for state violence against citizens engaged in a rightful protest.
The unfortunate incident occurred on Thursday at the Peshawar University campus when riot contingents of police indiscriminately baton charged university students staging a protest against the recent hike in fees by the university administration. The resultant clashes left at least a dozen people injured, including policemen.
Reports said over 25 students had been arrested for violating Section 144 of the Criminal Procedures Code. The protest call was given by the student group Muttahida Tulaba Mahaz and was staged at the Pearl Lawn inside Peshawar University. Student members of the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pukhtoon Students Federation (PSF), Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT) and Muslim Students Federation (MSF) also attended the protest.
A university spokesman, however, rejected claims that the protest was held against the fee hike, calling it blackmailing by some politically motivated former students. He added that protests was in part a reaction to the university administration’s efforts to get 300 illegally occupied hostel rooms vacated this July.
Social Media Fire
Regardless, the Peshawar University assault has drawn severe criticism of the government from quarters both political and civil. Almost all political leaders have condemned the police assault, while twitterati appear to be angry as well. #PeshawarUniversity was the top trending topic in Pakistan all through Thursday night and Friday morning, with Twitter users rapping the KP Police for its much touted “exemplary” conduct and violence during the Peshawar university assault.
It is the democratic right of students to protest & demonstrate against the insults & miseries put on them. #PeshawarUniversity students were peacefully demonstrating ag the recent fee hike on PhD & mphil degrees, demanding reversal of the decision by university administration
— PRSF Islamabad Rawalpindi (@ProgStudentsFed) October 4, 2018
#PeshawarUniversity students demand students basic rights. Shameful act by administration attack on peaceful sit in. #SaveUOP #Studentright@khanzamankakar @Khadimhussain4 @afghan_tariq @BushraGohar @GulBukhari @mjdawar @Xadeejournalist pic.twitter.com/oTtEi0N55R
— Naveed Yousafzai (@NaveedYousafza5) October 4, 2018
Politicians, of course, could not stay much behind in their censure of the government.
Is Naya Pakistan Zia’s dictatorship?! Absolutely looks like it in this video with students being beaten & arrested. Every single officer needs to be held accountable & removed. Not sure what police reforms IK failed governance provided but this is straight out of horror history. https://t.co/gC9bzOT8b7
— Bakhtawar B-Zardari (@BakhtawarBZ) October 4, 2018
Strongly condemn the callous act of so called "examplary" KP police. Torturing students for exercising their fundemental right to protest against fee hike is unjustifiable! #PeshawarUniversity pic.twitter.com/2rhv3nCkU0
— Naz Baloch (@NazBaloch_) October 4, 2018
However, some appeared to side with the claims of the Peshawar University administration about the protests being in fact against the vacation of hostels from illegal occupants.
Is that was peaceful protest. They are /were the goons og political parties. They have been warned to vacate the hostel rooms. But they did not. So the last option was to act against these goons. Great @KP_Police1 #PeshawarUniversity pic.twitter.com/NU8T7Hqlvb https://t.co/OvPyWhRY2k
— Sajjad Anjum Khattak (@sajjadanjumkhan) October 5, 2018
Though the people remain divided as ever over this unfortunate occurrence, it is safe to say that the situation could have been handled in a more humane and no-violent manner by the provincial law enforcement agencies. Especially, when Prime Minister Imran Khan claims his party turned the police force around during its previous tenure.
Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Spokesperson Shaukat Yousafzai said students were “being used by political parties”. However, he said talks were underway to resolve the grievances and conduct an inquiry if the students demanded one.