The Sindh Police’s move to apprehend 47 college professors for protesting outside the Chief Minister’s office due to delays in their timescale promotions is condemnable. What is worse however, is the stated reason for the arrests; according to the police, the professors were taken into custody for the disruption they were causing to the flow of traffic as a result of their protest. Was the police responding to a complaint by those stuck in traffic, or did it unilaterally decide to take action once it decided that the protest was of no interest to the government?

The problem supposedly wasn’t the protest itself, but the fact that it was being held in the ‘red zone’ of the city; a place where protests are banned. The fact that there is a ‘red zone’ in Islamabad is at least understandable if not completely agreeable; protesters are normally demonstrating against the state and need government functionaries to see it, but given Islamabad’s geography and the location of all sensitive buildings in one place entails that some restrictions must be implemented. Karachi is a different case altogether; why is the Chief Minister’s residence and other surrounding areas a sensitive area for protest? Where does the state think protests should be orchestrated, if not in public places where members of the government can see it?

That the police thinks that the rights of the traffic are somehow more important than the protesting academics is by no means shocking. This is how the state, and in particular, those in power have taught law enforcement agencies to treat protesters. When in opposition, every mainstream political party has expressed its support for the right to protest and disagree with the policies of the government by orchestrating a public demonstration. However, each party has also changed its tune completely when they are the ones at the helm. The Pakistan Peoples’ Party is no different. Supporting Maulana Fazl ur Rehman’s protest means nothing if one cannot apply the same standards when it comes to their own business. If this is how the PPP is looking to deal with protests in its own backyard, it should think twice before throwing its weight behind others.

The right to protest does not only extend to religious or political parties. Citizens of the country have a right to speak out against the government, whether or not their political representative is backing them or not. Political parties need to stop treating the country like their own political battleground and come to terms with the fact that citizens’ concerns take priority over all else. The arrested protestors must be released at once. The PPP government also needs to reign in its provincial police department; wrongful arrests or arrests made on trumped up charges are against the law and should be treated as such.