Muzaffarabad (Agencies): Muzaffarabad police used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters who had gathered to condemn the arrests of civil society activists protesting against inflated power bills and other issues. Police confronted the protesters as they headed towards their sit-in camp at the city’s Central Press Club. Police also resorted to baton-charging and were met with stone-throwing by the demonstrators.
The sit-in camp was established by the people’s action committee in Muzaffarabad on September 20. Participants in the sit-in included traders, lawyers, students, and vendors who urged people not to pay their electricity bills.
Protesters had been making paper boats and airplanes out of electricity bills, which they planned to throw into the Neelum River on September 28.
The police had deployed riot police to prevent this action, but it did not deter the demonstrators.
In a surprising development, police lodged FIRs against dozens of trader leaders, councillors, and civil society activists in different parts of the state for “destroying” electricity bills and “provoking the public against the government.”
As news of the overnight raids and arrests circulated on social media, traders shut down their shops in protest. Video footage showed a police officer attempting to make people reopen their shops, but traders refused and joined protests condemning the arrests.
Protesters in several neighborhoods blocked roads, chanted slogans against the government, clashed with the police, and resorted to stone-pelting. The police responded with baton charges and tear gas, resulting in injuries to several people, including a deputy superintendent of police, a constable, and protesters. Despite the police response, the demonstrators eventually reached their sit-in camp, where they vowed to continue their peaceful protest.
The core committee of people’s action committees has called a meeting on October 2 to draft a collective charter of demands to present to the AJK Prime Minister. They demanded the release of all detainees to proceed with the meeting.
In Rawalakot, a large rally was held amid a shutter-down strike, and a sit-in camp was re-established.
In Abbaspur, protesters surrounded a police station after alleged police violence.
In Neelum Valley, hundreds of electricity bills were set on fire, and local police booked several individuals in a case. The AJK Bar Council held an emergency meeting, expressing concern over the arrests and demanding the release of detainees and the quashing of cases against them. They gave the government 24 hours to comply with their demands.