Labour Party Pakistan Activists Arrested and Beaten Up

A couple of years ago, when General Musharraf was running Pakistan, he sacked the judiciary because he was afraid of its independent rulings and thought his election itself might be ruled illegal.

Lawyers from around the country built a massive movement and essentially cut the legs out from under the Musharraf government, demanding reinstatement of the 63 judges. A coalition--led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in alliance with Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N)--supported this demand, but once elected to office the PPP reneged.

The lawyers' movement called for another Long March beginning on March 12, 2009 in order to rebuild momentum for the restoration of the independent judiciary. Meanwhile the PPP government plotted to derail it. Here is a report on the first day of the march, written by Farooq Tariq, spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan, a revolutionary organization.

On March 12 police in Karachi arrested three activists of the Labour Party Pakistan. Dozens of lawyers and other political activists were also arrested. They were part of the lawyers' long march that began this morning from Karachi, The police failed to stop it but did halt it at the Toll Plaza outside Karachi. All the participants were forcefully returned; those who resisted were arrested.

The police targeted Nasir Mansoor, national labor secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan and member of the LPP national executive committee. His car was snatched. He was severely beaten and taken to a hospital in an ambulance. Police also arrested Shela Rezwan, LPP Sindh Committee member, Samina from the Peoples Resistance and Sadiq and Khalid of the LPP Karachi. Shela and Samina were released after several hours; Sadiq and Khalid are still in police custody. The police also arrested the main local leadership of the lawyers' movement. Most of the television channel broadcast Nasir's beating and the arrests.

The LPP has announced two protest demonstrations for 13 March against this police repression. The Karachi demonstration will be at 3pm in front of the Karachi Press Club and the Lahore demonstration will be held in front of Lahore Press Club at 4pm. We request all the political and trade unions and social activists join the demonstration.

Despite this repression, dozens of LPP activists are making their way by train and private buses to Lahore, then on to Islamabad for the 16 March sit in. One comrade from Karachi has already arrived in Islamabad to take part in the action.

It is worth mentioning that when lawyers came out of the Sindh High Court building to begin the march, LPP and Awami Tehreek, both part of the Awami Jamhoori Tehreek, were the only political parties with their red flags accompanying the lawyers.

Over 20 comrades from LPP, mainly women, were able to reach the High Court building despite the closure of all the roads and the heavy presence of police around the building.

Over 40 LPP comrades are participating in the long march that began in Quetta.  It was not stopped by the Baluchistan government and is now proceeding to Sukhar in Sind. It is reported that the Sindh police will arrest they when they will enter Sindh.

Despite all the police repression, the lawyers' long march continues. In Lahore, thousands of lawyers and political activists held a rally despite all police despotism.

Demonstrating Vs. Police

This is a follow-up to the report I posted yesterday. It is also written by Farooq Tariq:

The Labour Party Pakistan demonstrated on Friday, 13 March, in Lahore and Karachi, in front of the press club buildings. Despite the serious threat of arrests, the demonstrations were held.

In Karachi, LPP activists raised slogans against the brutal treatment of the police against LPP activists Shakeel, Nasir Mansoor, Shela Rizwan and others in Karachi yesterday.

In a bid to stop the lawyers’ Long March both Shakeel, a Progressive Youth Front leader and LPP activist, and Nasir Mansoor, Labour Secretary of the LPP, were badly beaten by the police at the Karachi Toll Plaza the previous day. Shela Rizwan of the LPP and Samina of Peoples Resistance were arrested and forcefully pushed into the police van, making headlines all over the world. The action became a reference in all the political discussions.

Meanwhile, in Lahore, police threatened to arrest all the participants of today’s demonstration. However, all 22 participants of this defiant demonstration were ready for any consequences. They made it clear that they would go ahead, come what may. As most of the participants were women, a conscious strategy of the LPP Lahore, the police retreated. After yesterday’s arrests and beatings the media reported unfavorably about the police’s role.

The LPP national executive committee has directed all the members of the party to take part in the lawyers’ Long March. The LPP is already distributing leaflets to urging working people to join the march and despite all hurdles, the LPP will join the lawyers on 16 March in Islamabad.

Photo of LPP activists just before arrests

Restoration of the Pakistani Judges

Over the past week the Pakistan Peoples Party government has arrested 2,000 political activists. The PPP was determined to stop the lawyers' "Long March" and sit in planned for Islamabad, however the morning the sit in was to begin, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced that Chief Justice Ifikhar Choudry and other top judges, who were sacked by General Musharraf a year and a half ago, have been restored to their posts.

After preparing for massive repression against the lawyers' movement and anyone who dared to support them, the government decided to retreat from its refusal to implement the promise it made when it came to power last year.

This is a huge victory for the Pakistani social movements. Fully 60% of Pakistanis supported the restoration of the judges, but the PPP leaders are scared that the independent-minded judges will give them problems. Here's hoping!

Following the "Long March" Victory

The fact that the mass movement of the lawyers and other elements of civil society was able to force the Pakistani government to agree to the reinstatement of Chief Justice Ifikhar Choudry is proof that militant mass action can force recalcitrant elements of society to give in to demands they really don't want to grant.

Here's a report from Farooq Tariq, a spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan, about workers who struck two plants:

Today on 21 March, workers without the benefit of a union organized a strike at the Choudry Sugar Mills and Hamza Board at Gojra in district Toba Tek Singh. Over 700 of the 1,000 workers walked out. The two factories, sitting side by side, are owned by the Sharif family. In their first strike ever the workers demanded to be paid the minimum wage. While at present many are paid less than Rupees 4000, the government’s minimum wage for unskilled workers is Rupees 6000.

Led by activists of the Labour Party Pakistan, workers for three hours blocked the main road linking Toba Tek Singh to Faisalabad. Police tried to intimidate the workers but they refused to leave the road until they spoke to Hamza Shahbaz, the son of Mian Shahbaz Sharif. Hamza is the person responsible for the Sharif family factories and is also a member of the national assembly.

Tariq Mehmood, general secretary for the LPP district Toba and Shabir Ahmad, secretary LPP Gojra and leader of Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) along with other LPP activists have been attempting to unionize the two factories. They began by putting up the Trade Unions Action Committee For Minimum Wages poster that called for the implementation of the minimum wage. That helped to make the first contacts within the factory.

Hamza Shahbaz spoke to Tariq Mehmood on phone and told him that he respects the LPP very much. He assured him that a minimum wage will be paid and that all the contract labor will be made permanent. A meeting of workers representatives and Hamza Shahbaz is now fixed for 31 March in Gojra.

With this assurance the workers returned to the factories.

This is a unique incident. Before no one dared to form a union in the two factories and no one ever thought about striking. However, with the success of the long march, workers feel confident enough to speak up and make their demands known. Workers have agreed to form a union and work with LQM and LPP.

LPP on rising religious fundamentalism

After a detailed discussion on the Swat situation and rising religious fundamentalism, the Labour Party of Pakistan's National Committee, meeting in early May 2009, demanded an immediate halt of the government's military operation as well as calling on all the Taliban groups to lay down their arms.

The LPP opposes the military operations of the Talban and the army. It characterizes the army's operation as an extension of imperialist intervention in Afghanistan and demands the withdrawal of NATO forces there. It is NATO armies in Afghanistan that have strengthened religious fundamentalism.

The LPP vowed to continue its struggle against religious fundamentalism. It calls for the separation of religion from the state, for the allocation of 10% of the budget to education, and for the nationalization of the larger private educational institutions, including the madrassas.

The Labour Party sees the best way to resist the Taliban through building social movements, whether that be trade unions, peasant organizations, movements opposing a neoliberal agenda or women's organizations.

The LPP opposed the so-called peace deal between the government and the Taliban in the Swat Valley. That agreement failed within the month, resulting both bloodshed and an internal migration involving hundreds of thousands. Today the LPP demands an immediate effective relief package for all those who fled their homes to save their lives.

Solidarity with the internally displaced

Since the Pakistani military operation began in Swat over 500,000 people have left. Others had left before. Some find relatives they can stay with but many have nowhere to go. Left political parties and social movement organizations have set up half a dozen camps. Here is a short report on the fundraising the Labor Party Pakistan is carrying out:

"Yesterday, we raised rupees 40,000 and they have already been sent to Murdan; today, until now, around 20,000 has been collected. These collections come in one, two and ten rupees.

"LPP activists are going to every car, rickshaw, bus and motorcycle stopping at the signal of Regal Chock in Lahore. To collect funds like this is painstaking work. We do not have rich backers. But the majority of those passing by give some amount.

"Women comrades of the LPP have played a major role in this campaign.

"Hopefully, we will raise around 100,000 in three days. That is not much at all in comparison to the catastrophe that there are over a million internally displaced people due to the policies of the military operation and Taliban."

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