The Anjman Mozareen Punjab (AMP), one of Pakistan’s most prominent peasant movements is facing massive oppression by the authorities with most of its leadership put behind the bars on false anti-terrorism charges.
In addition, dozens of its activists are while over 50 remain behind the bars. All have been declared terrorists by the Okara district police, working hand in hand with the Military Farms administration, which mainly serves military officers.
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The problem started in 2001, when the tenants of the Military farms refused to turn over half of their crops to the Military Farms Association, which these they have been forced to pay for over 90 years. The centre of the protest is 1,4000 acres of government land in Okara district occupied by the Military Farms Administration.
After years of an intense showdown, recently the government seems to have adopted a carrot and stick approach with the tenants of military farms of Okara. District and police officers and parliamentarians of Okara had recently announced measures to calm the tenants.
They announced that the government had waived off dues which the tenants of military farms owed to the government since 2001. Also, the tenants would be taken under tenancy instead of the lease system under the new arrangements. No tenant will be evicted from the village while cases involving the tenants will be decided on merit. These steps if implemented would be a great victory for the tenants who have been at loggerheads with the authorities.
In one of the recent act of repression, on 16th April 2016 police raided the home of Mehr Abdul Sattar, general secretary of Anjman Mozareen Punjab. He was taken into preventive custody under the Maintenance of Public Order ordinance. This myth was consciously promoted to demonize the peasant movement. As a precaution the military had trucked in tanks from other cantonments,” says Farooq Tariq, General Secretary, Awami Workers Party.
Despite a severe crackdown by the military and the police, the Anjuman Mazareen Punjab went ahead with its planned convention on 17th April, marking the International Day of Peasants’ Struggle. Thousands of peasant activists gathered in Okara to demand an end to use of violent tactics by the state authorities and to seek the release of AMP general secretary Mehr Abdul Sattar and other AMP leaders.
After being unable to stop the huge peasant convention, the police are now resorting to arrests, intimidation and mass charges in order to force peasants off the land, says Tariq.
Following the successful 13th commemoration meeting of Bahsir Shaheed, who was killed by state agencies in 2002, in Ranalkhurd, its main organizer, Nadeem Ashraf, was arrested at home.
He was charged with murder, attempt of murder, terrorism charges and various other criminal charges.
Malik Salim Jakhar, one of the main leaders of the movement from Kulyana Military Estate, has also been arrested and framed with various criminal charges. Hafiz Jabir and Shabir Ahmad Sajid were arrested as well.
As part of their plan to isolate and destroy the peasant organization, the police charged Okara based journalist Hafiz Husnain Raza, who is working for Nawai Waqt group, in April 2016. On the 16 of April 2016, police broke down the doors of Hafiz Husnain’s home to arrest him.
According Tariq the authorities have been on a misinformation campaign against the movement. “On the 18th of April the Daily Dawn reported that 4000 Muzareen had been booked under anti-terrorist laws for "injuring police." However no police had been injured on the day as tanks and other military vehicles were used to disperse the crowd,” he said.
After arresting Mehr Abdul Sattar on the 16th of April, District Police Officer Okara claimed that he was wanted in 150 cases. But at the Lahore High Court only 26 cases were registered. Among those 26 cases, the lower courts have acquitted Mehr Sattar in five cases earlier while the police themselves had declared him innocent in another nine.
On the arrest of Abdul Sattar, his brother Chaudhary Sajjad Ahmed, said “When policemen came to take him away, we did not resist.” “If we were terrorists, we would have brandished guns and fought back. We have put up with many search operations and raids. No one has ever found weapons or any literature that indicates that we are enemies of the state.”
The district administration created the myth that tenants are armed and hosting terrorists as an excuse to launch a massive campaign against it. It has been pointed out in some news reports that the protests were peaceful, representing the collective voice of the voiceless.
“It is the unjust control of land by military-run companies and some individual officers that drives the protests. The peasants have built a strong organization and pursued their just cause through their constitutionally guaranteed rights of protest and assembly,” he points out.
Speaking in defense of the Okara peasant movement at a press conference in Lahore on the 18th of April, human right activist, Asma Jehanghir said, "The military, the federal and the provincial governments must clarify their position regarding the suppression of the protesting peasants in Okara. What is the criteria being used to determine legitimate threats to national security and law and order? The right to assembly is guaranteed in our Constitution.”
“The government must answer why a group formed to lobby for rights of peasants has been branded a terrorist group. AMP represents more than 100,000 peasants who work and live on Pakistani government and military-owned land. How did a peasant convention called for International Peasants Day threaten to cause a law and order situation?” Jehanghir asked.
The misuse of the National Action Plan against Terrorism to suppress the peasants’ movement is very evident in the case of Okara. “There should be an immediate stop to all attempts at dispossession and violence perpetrated by the state. The state must develop a comprehensive land reform plan with a just and equal distribution of agricultural, land and water resources in the country,” Tariq said.