PAKISTAN: Military fires on farmers' protest
BY FAROOQ TARIQ
LAHORE — On May 11, one farmer was killed and three injured when a group of Rangers, a para-military unit under the direct control of the Pakistani military, fired on tenant farmers at the Okara farms in Punjab province.
The Okara farms are state-owned lands operated under the administration of the military. They have been tilled by landless farmers for more than a century.
In 1999, the government promised to allot lands to the landless tenant farmers. In 2000, the farmers began to campaign for legal title to the farms. However, they were met with brutal repression including an attempt to alter their tenure arrangement on their farms, further affecting their already difficult livelihood. Violence and arrests have occurred as tenants have refused to give up their struggle for land ownership.
On May 1, Rangers and police raided Chak (village) #9-4L in the Okara district, arresting two farmers, who were released after six days in detention. The next day, four tenant farmers from Chak #4-4/L were also arrested.
Hundreds of tenant farmers staged a peaceful sit-in protest on May 5 demanding the release of the detained farmers. Rangers and police opened fire, causing injuries to at least six people, including five women.
According to a local newspaper, on May 6, the Okara police registered cases against more than 80 tenants, under various laws including the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, for allegedly disrupting peace, shooting of the personnel of law enforcing agencies and inciting people against the government.
On May 11, tenant farmers again staged a peaceful protest. Choudry Abdul Jabar and Mehr Abdul Sattar, the two main leaders of the tenant farmers' movement, reported that the Rangers fired on the farmers for at least two hours.
The Okara police are refusing to investigate the death of Amir Ali, the farmer killed by the Rangers on May 11. The tenant farmers are refusing to bury Ali's body until an official investigation is initiated.
Please send polite letters to express your concern about the police violence against the Okara tenant farmers to Lt. Gen. Khalid Maqbool, Governor of Punjab, Governor's House, Lahore, Pakistan (Fax: 92-42-9200025).
From Green Left Weekly, May 21, 2003.
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