The arrest of 36 family members of missing persons’ as they were protesting outside the house of President Arif Alvi in Karachi must be condemned, and those arrested must be released by the police at the earliest opportunity. This protest had no political colour and given that the demonstration had being going on peacefully since April 28, tells us that the state’s intervention in this situation was highly unnecessary.

Citizens of the country sitting outside the Head of the State’s house to pressure the state into returning their loved ones (or at the very least inform them of their whereabouts) is not a crime. The state machinery is supposed to look out for those that cannot seek help elsewhere, instead of arresting them.

The police were acting on its own behest if the paperwork is to be believed, since it filed a First Information Report (FIR) without any complainant approaching a police station. This in itself is strange considering that in many police stations, average citizens are refused their request of filing an FIR; when it comes to apprehending innocent civilians however, the police seems to have reacted with uncharacteristic gusto.

To add insult to injury, the charges levied against the innocent protesters are not only far from the truth, they are also exceedingly extreme; invoking sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 121 (waging or attempting to wage war or abetting the waging of war against Pakistan), 121-A (conspiracy to commit offences punishable by Section 121), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 427 (mischief) and 503 (criminal intimidation) of the Pakistan Penal Act against peaceful protesters is way out of line.

So far, none of the protesters outside President Arif Alvi’s house have displayed any indication of following through on any of the charges levied against them. The police’s heavy-handed reaction and the charges levied in the FIR tell us that the reaction of the state comes from a position of fear.

What is there to fear from innocent families beseeching the government to give them answers, to bring back those they have lost? Asking the state where citizens of the country (so far presumed innocent because they have not been convicted of any crimes) have disappeared is not tantamount to ‘waging war against Pakistan’.

It would be strange though for the state to fear innocent loved ones of those that are missing unless it has something to hide. The state needs to start answering these questions, and the police needs to stop treating the citizens it is tasked with protecting as enemies of the state. This is not tolerable in the slightest.