Riot between marchers, police turns things sour at Islamabad Aurat March

Marchers allege that police “tried hard to stop the rally”; police personnel suspended for beating women

Zarmeen Zehra
A clash takes place between people during the Aurat March in Islamabad, on March 8, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — GeoNews
A clash takes place between people during the Aurat March in Islamabad, on March 8, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — GeoNews
  • Minister berates Islamabad police for resorting to lathi charge.
  • Marchers began to raise slogans against the government, media.
  • Three police personnel who hit women have been suspended.

ISLAMABAD: A violent fight broke out outside the Press Club today as women and transgender people from various fields gathered for the Aurat March rally, where the police beat attendees with batons and allegedly tried to “stop” the rally.

The Aurat March is a rally conducted every year by women across the country on International Women’s Day to voice their grievances and celebrate womanhood.

A verbal spat between the participants of the rally and the police occurred after they questioned the large number of transgender people trying to join the rally, the police said, adding that large groups of women were joining the march.

Women at the march alleged that the police had “tried hard to stop the rally”.

Federal Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman also participated in the rally and strongly condemned the violence that broke out.

Taking to her Twitter handle, Rehman said: “Friends from Aurat Azadi March are rightly upset. The Islamabad police had NO business laathi charging a small peaceful procession. It is the women holding laathis that need to be pushed back, not progressive women. Sad to see this happening. Will seek an inquiry”

In another tweet, she said: “I strongly condemn this violence and have sought an inquiry on the incident. There is no excuse for this. That too on Int’l Women’s Day. This is not what we fought for and will not tolerate it. Has been brought to the Interior Minister's notice.”

During the rally, participants chanted slogans for women's rights and were joined by transgender people, whom the police stopped to question.

Soon there was serious disorder outside the Islamabad Press Club, and the marchers began to raise slogans against the government and the media.

Several reporters present at the event voiced concerns over the fact that despite covering the incident peacefully all morning, they had come under the wraps of the fight. A woman reporter and a cameraman from a local news channel also sustained injuries.

The organisers of the march also shouted slogans against Rehman, who then left the venue.

Human rights activist Farzana Bari demands that Rehman take the woman to D Chowk. However, the climate minister said that the IG couldn't give permission.

“I spoke to Islamabad IG yesterday regarding the march, but he said it was not possible for him to give permission to go to D Chowk since he feared there might be a clash,” she explained.

To this Bari responded: “We want the state to block the path of the “terrorists” and allow us to march.”

The marchers further demanded that the Deputy Commissioner and DIG should resign.

“It is a pity that the peaceful women's march was a victim of the conflict,” Rehman said condemning the violence that broke out.

She maintained that the administration should have decided the route first.

Following the spate that broke out, a number of people and organisations have spoken up against the administrations and condemned the brutality.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) tweeted:

“HRCP deplores the use of force by the Islamabad police against citizens at the Aurat Azadi March. We are also concerned by reports that religious organizations have tried to hinder women from taking part in the march. Women have as much right to peaceful assembly as any citizen.”

While Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has also taken notice of the incident: "The police personnel involved in baton-charging the participants of the Women's March have been suspended. Moreover, other persons responsible for misbehavior are also being identified, and proper action will be taken against them too."

The Islamabad Police too took to its Twitter handle and wrote: “Islamabad Police stands with the march participants in the struggle and protection of women's rights. IG Islamabad has directed the DIG Operations to ensure the security of Awrat March and Tahuzaf Feminist Rallies.”

Spokesperson of the Islamabad Capital Police also confirmed that the three officials who hit women with batons have been suspended.

“Those responsible are being determined, against whom action will also be taken, ” he said.