—Five students injured, 28 others arrested as KP spokesperson calls protest politically motivated
—University spokesperson says police baton charged as protesters refused to negotiate, turned violent
—PPP, ANP, PTM condemn police action, call for release of arrested students
PESHAWAR: In a display of ruthless use of force, at least five students were injured and 28 others were arrested when police baton-charged protesters demonstrating against an increase in tuition fee at the Peshawar University on Thursday.
The students were holding a peaceful protest rally in front of administration block when police, on the directives of chief security officers, launched a crackdown.
The protest had been announced by the Muttahida Talaba Mahaz. It was held at the university’s Pearl Lawn, where students from the Pukhtoon Students Federation (PSF), the student wing of Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) and Muslim Students Federation (MSF) congregated to record their opposition to the fee hike.
Soon after the protest, heavy police contingents reached the spot and launched baton charge on students to end their protest, which worsened the situation.
The injured students were identified as Saleem Ahmad of the department of international relations, Hasnain of the agriculture department, Farooq from the department of management sciences, Abbas of computer science department and Shah Fahad of media studies.
The protesting students said that fee increment for MPhil and PhD was unacceptable to them while the university administration claims that the fee has been increased after 2 years, therefore the students’ protest is unjustified.
The university had earlier imposed a ban on protests in the campus under Section 144.
A police official at the campus police station, who wished not to be named, told a private media outlet that 28 students had been arrested for staging the protest held in violation of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedures Code.
He added that three policemen had also received injuries during the clash.
Talking to Pakistan Today, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba Peshawar University Campus Information Secretary Attiqullah said that the administration has increased the admission fee from Rs27,500 to 32,500, while the hostel admission fee has been increased up to Rs33,000.
“Similarly, the university is taking Rs48,000 in admission fee for masters while on self-finance basis, the university is taking Rs8,400 heavy from the poor students,” he informed.
Malakand Student’s Society President Waleed said that the vice-chancellor has converted the university campus into cantonment board. He claimed that university administration has hired the services of a retired army colonel as its chief security officer, who is taking Rs0.4 million monthly salary from the university for his services.
The chief security officer is also running a private security company under the name of Sarhad Security and has deputed 48 persons inside the campus from his own organisation. He added, “Today, everyone has seen the performance of the chief security officer who ordered police to use baton charge against the students.”
Waleed informed that five of their colleagues were seriously injured, who were shifted to Hayatabad Medical Complex, Peshawar in a precarious condition.
He said that the students were demanding to reduce the admission fees and withdraw an FIR against the students, besides allowing them to attend their examination. But instead of fulfilling their demands, the students were brutally tortured, he added.
On the other hand, university Spokesperson Ali Imran Bangash told media persons that the students had occupied illegal rooms in the campus. 300 rooms illegally occupied by various political movements were vacated after giving time.
The spokesperson believed that the protest was in reaction to the operation carried out earlier to vacate these rooms.
Bangash said that these students were trying to blackmail the university administration. Two outsiders, both of whom are graduates, are leading these protests. “One belongs to the IJT and the other to the PSF. Their aim is to find a way to blackmail the administration whilst using innocent students as a shield.”
He said that the university administration was forced to resort to baton charge as the students were attacking administration block through violent protest demonstrations despite an offer for dialogue.
BILAWAL CALLS PROTEST A ‘DEMOCRATIC RIGHT’:
Commenting on the police action against students, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said the students have a democratic right to demonstrate peacefully.
The PPP chairman further advised the government to not ‘seek revenge for its persistent failure from the students’.
“Students of the Peshawar University were protesting for their rights. Stern action should be taken against those who tortured the protesting students,” said Bilawal.
He also demanded the immediate release of the arrested students and a downward revision in the fee. The PPP leader further said the injured students must be provided with better medical facilities.
Awami National Party (ANP) KP President Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and ANP parliamentary leader Sardar Hussain Babak strongly condemned the brutal use of forces against students.
Jamaat-e-Islami Provincial General Secretary Abdul Wasay also denounced the use of forces against peaceful protesters and urged university administration to resolve students’ problem and withdraw FIRs against them.
Moreover, Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leader Manzoor Pashteen condemned the incident on Twitter and wrote, “Protests against fee increase is an expected reaction from those who can’t afford to pay. We demand action against police responsible for this violence. Everyone has the right to protest.”
We strongly condemn Police brutality against students of Peshawar University. Protests against fee increase is an expected reaction from those who can’t afford to pay. We demand action against police responsible for this violence. Everyone has the right to protest #DaSangaAzadiDa
— Manzoor Pashteen (@manzoorpashteen) October 4, 2018
KP GOVT RESPONDS:
Responding to the incident, KP Spokesperson Shaukat Yousafzai hinted at the presence of political elements in what transpired and said, “There is a hidden element to this story which is in contrast with what appears on the surface.”
He said that certain political parties were supporting the protest, adding that the whole episode was being politicised.
The spokesperson, however, expressed sorrow at what happened and said that he will always raise his voice for the rights of students.
“I am against the use of force against students, but they are being used by political parties. Many hostel rooms were taken over by students not entitled to use them,” he said, adding that there were around 400 rooms that were illegally occupied.
Moreover, he said that the university did not change the fee structure for the past two years despite a decision to increase the fee by 10 per cent each year.
He provided assurances that talks were being held for the prompt release of the students and said that the government was willing to address any grievances and conduct an inquiry if the students so wish.
Meanwhile, Yousufzai said that the students should refrain from using university grounds as an arena for politics.