Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released on Friday the observations of a fact-finding team that had visited Muridke last month to investigate a police action there on May 16 to disperse tenants protesting the arrest of four fellow workers from Dera Sehgal Farms earlier the same day. One person was shot and killed during the incident, while a policeman who was injured died a fortnight later.
The fact-finding team made the following observations:
About 50 tenants had assembled on GT Road in Muridke to protest the arrest of four fellow villagers. The protesters did not carry any firearms.
While negotiating with the protesters the police had reportedly said that the four men arrested from Dera Sehgal Farms would be released. It appeared that the four men had been denied several due process rights in custody.
Later the police resorted to tear gas, batons and also fired live ammunition to disperse the protesters. It appears that the police used excessive and disproportionate force to disperse them. The use of live ammunition was prima facie uncalled for. The protesters responded by pelting the police with stones.
During the mayhem, a cattle merchant, Muhammad Arif, stuck in the traffic was shot and died on his way to the hospital. According to his brothers who were present at the scene, he was shot by the police. According to eyewitness accounts of Muhammad Arif’s brothers in a statement under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), their brother was first beaten with batons by cops and was then shot dead by a policeman. It appears that their statement has not led to an investigation that such a serious charge warrants, nor has the bullet that killed Arif been matched with the weapon used to establish the identity of the person who pulled the trigger.
A police assistant sub-inspector, Jan Muhammad, was reportedly hit by a stone, was hospitalized, and died 13 days later.
Several people who were not even present at the protest were arrested subsequently and charged with murder. Seven women and their children were also taken into custody when police raided Dera Sehgal Farms.
Despite deployment of a large police contingent which resorted to force without much hesitation, no provision had been made to arrange emergency medical support or ambulances.
Even though no more than 50 protesters had gathered at GT Road, according to most accounts, the police nominated 32 people and also booked another 200 unidentified persons for the murder of Muhammad Arif and ASI Jan Muhammad. Later, the police added the names of another 120 people to the FIR without any evidence and without investigation.
The HRCP fact finding team felt that their efforts to unearth the facts were hampered by the refusal of senior police officials to talk to them. The police version of the case is therefore missing from the report to a large extent. Only the investigation officer had responded to questions of the fact-finding team.