Democracy under dictatorship

IssueJuly to August 2006
Comment by Farooq Tariq

During the last six years under General Pervaiz Musharaf, it has been a very rare occasion that, when we wanted to organise some public event, there has been no intimidation, threats or arrests

It happens all the time. A police inspector, a deputy or a senior superintendent will call our office or my mobile. Sometimes, it is one of the intelligence services that call. The message is almost always the same: “Cancel your event, postpone it, there is a section 144 imposed.”

They try to say this first in a friendly manner, and then in a threatening manner. It depends on how you react. W e are always friendly on the telephone, but remain firm that we will hold the demonstration or event. But this is the beginning - later comes the force itself. Sometimes, they will come to the Labour Party' s office to persuade us to cancel. We argue that it is our democratic right to organise; they smile and usually say: “What democracy? We are bound to act on our orders. Demonstrations are not allowed. Get permission from the administration and you will be allowed to hold the demonstration.”

No “permission” required

The administration in Lahore is our local government. We normally send a letter informing them that an event is taking place. However, we never ask permission. In most cases, we do not get a reply. When we do get a reply we are told that the event is”not allowed”.

Sometimes we are arrested. At other times, the police back down. In some cases, we do not follow the planned route of a demonstration, but we never postpone any event because of the threats.

Land and rights

While I am writing this, another event is planned to take place. Anjaman Mozareen Punjab (the peasant organisation fighting for land rights at the military farms in the Okara district) is organising a public meeting at Proban abad Depalpur. This is a public meeting to demand the peasants' rights to land that has been occupied by the military for over 100 years. Asma Jehanghir, chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, promised to be the chief guest at the public meeting. However, she had to appear in the Supreme Court on the day of the event, so she is not coming. Instead, I was asked to be the main guest. I was going to be there anyway.

Fighting back

Since yesterday, the Depalpur police have been calling our office and mobiles, asking us not to come. I have not answered their calls since the morning, so many calls I have not responded to. They were able to get in touch with Afzal Soraya, secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan in Punjab, who has been told that “the LPP must not come”.

I am going tomorrow to the public meeting, come what may . It is our democratic right to speak and attend meetings. But democracy under military dictatorship is like that. W e will not accept this “democracy”. We are fighting back, not just in words, but in practice.

Topics: Pakistan