Following protest by the local Christian community in Sialkot over the use of church land by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party changed the venue for its rally to the VIP Cricket Ground.
Party leader Shafqat Mahmood announced the changes during a press conference, where he also urged PTI supporters to show up to the new venue to display their support.
Videos of the incident show the Sialkot police present at the venue amidst a crowd of PTI party workers, sitting atop a crane meant to dismantle the stage other structures. It has been reported that the police used tear gas and beat people with batons in an attempt to get them to disperse.
Although unconfirmed by the police, the PTI has alleged that leaders such as Usman Dar and some other party members were arrested by the police too. The PTI social media team posted a video of Dar where he claimed he was in a police ‘prisoner van’.
PTI chairperson and former prime minister Imran Khan maintained that this was a deliberate attempt to derail tonight’s rally by the current government, and claimed that his government never stopped the opposition from carrying out their rallies.
Sialkot District Police Officer (DPO) Hasan Iqbal said that the Christian community had filed a petition in the high court, requesting that no political rally be held on their property. He said PTI’s leaders had requested permission for the use of the land, but the Christian community had refused.
The DPO said that the deputy commissioner had even recommended alternative venues, adding “Holding a rally is a legal and constitutional right. But forcibly holding a rally on a property belonging to a minority community without any due process would be inappropriate.”
Reverend Dr Majeed Abel Presbyterian Church of Pakistan also said in a video statement that CTI Boys High School, where the rally was originally to take place, was a property of Presbyterian Church, USA. He said it could not be used for anything other than educational or religious purposes.
Former state minister Farrukh Habib and other PTI leaders maintain that they will go ahead with their rally at the new location. Habib claims that the party had submitted its application to hold the rally at the CTI Boys High School 10 days in advance, however the police had only told them about the Christian community’s reservations last night.
“We are aware who the master planner is. The government whose members are on bail, whose 24 members are on the Exit Control List (ECL), has ignored governance and the runaway dollar,” Habib said.