HRCP demands lawful treatment of tenant marchers

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LAHORE – The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed concern at registration of cases in Khanewal against hundreds of tenants under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The tenants had participated in a march to Lahore on Monday to press their demand for ownership rights of the land that they had been cultivating for decades.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the commission said that while the administration had largely refrained from using force to prevent the tenants’ march elsewhere in Punjab, tenants in Khanewal were baton-charged by the police and faced tear-gas shelling and detention during their efforts to march to Lahore and hundreds were booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The HRCP said that it was not in a position to determine what cause the tenants had given for the use of force by a police contingent blocking a key highway in Khanewal. However, the commission acknowledged that at least some policemen were also injured in addition to the scores of tenants, including women and children, who were injured when the police beat the marchers with batons and used tear-gas shells to disperse them.
The HRCP said that such use of force against unarmed tenants was uncalled for when the police had already blocked the road by placing containers on it. The HRCP expressed concern that the police action in Khanewal on Monday on scores of marchers remained unaccounted for until Wednesday. Scores of motorbikes and other vehicles used by the marchers travelling to Lahore were also damaged in the police action or were in police custody. The HRCP expressed concern at the use of force to prevent the tenants from marching peacefully to press for their legitimate demands and said that registration of cases under the Anti-Terrorism Act was unwarranted.
The HRCP demanded that the authorities immediately acknowledge detention of every tenant in custody, inform the family and the tenants’ organisations about the place of their detention and produce them in court at the earliest if there were any charges against them. All other tenants must be released forthwith, the HRCP demanded. The commission also noted that the police had established checkpoints outside villages of tenants and emphasised that the authorities should listen to the tenants’ demands and must desist from harassing them.