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Pakistan: Students released as protests spread

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After six days in prison, 180 of the students arrested at the Punjab University in Lahore on January 23 have been released. See for our statement at the time. These students were arrested and initially charged with a range of offences, including terrorism, after clashes between the clerical fascist organisation Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, IJT, and members of the Pashtun and Baloch Council at the university.

Seraiki students were also picked up by the IJT goons and tortured. Although the terrorism charges have since been dropped, they still face other charges. This is not the first such incident, the IJT have a history of such violence and torture of students.

The IJT established a monopoly on campuses after the ban on unions and the imposition of the Islamisation project by the Zia ul Haq regime in the 1980s. The recent surge of violence can only be understood by the fact that in recent years the IJT has lost its grip on the Punjab University and only maintains any hold at all because of support from the administration and outside forces.

In this situation, as more students from other provinces came to study in Lahore, new groups have emerged along national lines and challenge the IJT. These students face racism and discrimination on a daily basis. They have also raised questions about state policies in their home regions and have gained some support amongst Punjabi students and been able to organise protests against state operations and discrimination in their regions.

This is not acceptable to the government and in the recent clash we saw how the police sided with the Islamists in their attack on Baloch and Pashtun students. Subsequently, the media have tried to portray the students as mainly responsible for the incident and branded them traitors.

Many students, including Ahmad Azad, General Secretary of the National Student Federation, were arrested at the Press Club when they protested against the IJT and the biased attitude of the government. For example, the Minister for Higher Education has said that students from Balochistan would be admitted to Punjab University only if they had a recommendation from the Balochistan government, which clearly breaches any idea of academic objectivity. The bias can also be seen from the fact that of 196 arrested, 180 were Baloch or Pashtun, or their supporters from Punjab or other universities, including one professor.

After this attack, there have been many acts of solidarity by Punjab University students who refused to sit exams until their fellow students were released. Female students also organised protests against the violence and arrest of Baloch and Pashtun students. The release came as protests began to spread to other cities and the actual events became known, causing a scandal for the government which was forced to resolve the situation.