Threat of violence stalks election day

January 31, 1997

TENSION still runs high in Karachi's universities as Pakistan prepares for a general election. But allegations of torture and beatings at the University of Karachi have been overtaken by a new wave of tension and unrest over the abolition of the city bus company, which gave students highly-subsidised travel.

Concern over the right of University of Karachi academics to speak out safely about the activities of the Campus Security Services at the university has eased after the dismissal of vice chancellor Adbul Wahab by the caretaker government which replaced the Bhutto administration.

Acting vice chancellor Qasim Pirzada overturned many regulations which, in the opinion of the new administration, were undemocratic. Several anti-student and anti-lecturer policies have been reversed after consultations with academic and staff unions, and many steps have been taken to restore lecturers' academic freedoms, ending a period of tension while Dr Wahab was vice chancellor.

Late last year the CSS was disbanded by the governor of Sindh, who was also chancellor of the university, but he too has since been sacked.

The decision was taken after teachers and students protested against alleged beatings and torture by the CSS during the past year at the university, which is the biggest institution in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh.

Reports alleging the beating up of students and manhandling of teachers by uniformed men had appeared in the national press. But the beating of a female student by a security guard last September finally led to the disbanding of the CSS. Bela Nawaz, an MPhil student, was slapped by a CSS officer when she refused to move from where she was sitting drinking a cold drink. The guard later said, "it was not a proper place to have a drink".

The Karachi University Teachers' Society and students boycotted classes for a day in protest and at a post-incident press conference, the KUTS leaders accused the university administration of violating human rights and the University Act and demanded a judicial inquiry. They also said they would challenge the administration's use of the CSS and "curbs on the freedom of expression", in the Sindh High Court.

Demanding the disbanding of the CSS, KUTS secretary Arif Kazmi said: "We wish to bring to the notice of the authorities, the public at large and the media that in blatant contravention of the approved university budget a huge sum of money is being squandered on procuring equipment, including implements of torture, for the illegally-constituted CSS without appropriation in the budget."

Nikhat Siddiqui, the only female elected member of the university syndicate, stayed away from a university convocation at the Governor's House to register her protest.

The Sindh Professors and Lecturers Association also condemned the incident. Its members held a day of protest meetings wearing black armbands. The incident was also condemned by several political, religious, social and student organisations. The rightwing political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, condemned the incident and demanded an investigation by a judicial commission. Other political leaders also criticised the incident.

The Women's Action Forum appealed to all women's organisations and human rights groups to send a note of protest to Dr Wahab, and expressed solidarity with the student attacked by the CSS.

Last summer, there were reports that the CSS had set up a torture cell on campus where a number of teachers and students were alleged to have been tortured and manhandled.

Last July, three students - Ghulam Mustafa, Adnan Hussain and Nasir Farooqi - were said to have been taken to the cell where they were given a severe beating for "attempting to paste posters or distribute handbills".

They were released only after they signed a "confession" statement. The students later approached the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. In the same month at least six university staff were picked up by the CSS and taken to the cell where they were stripped to the waist, beaten with sticks and given electric shocks, according to a victim who did not wish to be named.

The CSS was conducting an investigation into allegations of "fake" marks sheets.

During the same investigation, an assistant professor in the department of mathematics, Anwar Zaidi, was taken from his department in a CSS mobile van to the cell where an employee was severely beaten in front of him.

After some questions the professor was allowed to go. Earlier, a number of students, who attempted to protest against a doubling of tuition fees and suspension of transport facilities from and to the campus, were dragged from different places, including the mosque during prayers, and given a severe beating.

Assistant professor Ishaq Mansoori of the Arabic department issued a press statement condemning the CSS action against the students. He said that the students should have freedom of expression and that the violence against them for protesting was undesirable.

The professor's statement appeared in a leading Urdu-language daily. The next day he was charged with "misconduct" under the university's efficiency and discipline rules.

Riaz Ahmed of the applied chemistry department was charged with disobedience, misconduct and exercising unwholesome influence on the corporate, moral and academic life of the university and cited for writing an article in a leading English-language daily.

In his article the professor had detailed illegal activities on campus. Assistant professor Monas Ahmer of the department of international relations was also censured for writing an article in the news- paper, although it was academic and not about the situation at the university.

At least ten teachers have so far been censured for expressing their ideas in public.

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