The President, Pervez Musharraf, has taken off his military uniform, lifted the state of emergency and called for elections of January 8. However, some private news channels are still not being aired while those aired are doing so under strict guidelines by the government. Many judges of the highest courts have been sacked arbitrarily and are living under house arrest without being allowed to move freely or operate as judges. There are fears that the elections will be rigged and many opposition parties are boycotting them. A letter written by Aitzaz Ahsan, a leading lawyer who has been fighting the judiciary’s case, says, “The chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and his family have been detained in their house, barricaded in with barbed wire and surrounded by police officers in riot gear since Nov. 3. Phone lines have been cut and jammers have been installed all around the house to disable cell phones.” Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan is currently under house arrest after a solitary confinement for three weeks himself.
We chanted “Go Musharraf Go” and “We want freedom” as we carried banners demanding the freedom of media, the restoration of judiciary and slogans against American imperialism. This was December 17th in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city. I had joined protestors which primarily included students. We had decided to protest against Pakistan’s current government headed by Pervez Musharraf and realise our responsibility as students. It was extremely encouraging to see, being from UWC AC, that I had with me alumnus and current students from UWC-USA, LPC UWC (Honk Kong) and RCN UWC (Norway). A sight which brought hope and the confidence that UWC students around the globe are indeed working towards a better world and have not shunned from their responsibilities in their homelands. We marched on one of the busiest roads in Islamabad, joined by approximately 280 students from various schools and universities, inside and outside Pakistan. Soon the road was blocked by police cars and riot police armed fully with batons and shields joined us. Policeman stood in front of us and also covered the back of the protest. After some time, Imran Khan, a political leader boycotting the elections joined us. By this time, the riot police had brought an APC (Armed Personnel Carrier) used for shelling tear gas. We continued our walk and chants. We had decided to march till the house of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court currently under house arrest. As soon as we reached his street we were blocked by the police who had accompanied us. However, the students had seen enough and with determination we tried to drive through the police. It would be an understatement to say that chaos followed. The police started heavy baton charging while we were showered with tear gas. I had managed to escape before this brutality started and other UWC students had escaped as well. The police had been joined by the anti-terror squad (Yes! The anti-terror squad against students!) Another protestor says, “They hit us with their laathis (long, stout wooden sticks) and rammed us with their shields. An APC screeched up and down the road, lobbing tear gas shells at us. The air was soon thick with the substance, making us feel as though as our eyes were going to burn out of our sockets and our lungs were about to collapse. We realized that a few of our own had been beaten so brutally that they had succumbed to the tear gas and had simply fainted right there in the middle…” 68 protestors were arrested and allegedly tortured again. Some were released soon after while others have been charged. However, the students in Pakistan still stand tall for their rights and freedoms and have continued their fight for the restoration of judiciary and the freedom of media. Despite this example of state brutality protests, demonstrations, vigils and hunger strikes continue. It is heartening to see how UWC students have played their part and I hope UWC students around the globe can work for the better and join hands to see their dreams materialize.
Contributed by Syed Haider Shahbaz (United World College of the Atlantic)
– United World College Student Magazine –