Pashtun leader Manzoor Pashteen faces terrorism and treason charges for speech

On Monday, October 24, the Lahore police booked Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) leader and activist Manzoor Pashteen on terrorism charges for a speech he made at a civil society conference 

October 26, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Manzoor Pashteen Pakistan
Manzoor Pashteen of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).

On Monday, October 24, Manzoor Pashteen, a Pashtun rights activist and one of the leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) in Pakistan, was booked by the Punjab State police on treason and terrorism charges for a speech he made at the Asma Jahangir Conference organized in the provincial capital Lahore on October 23. 

Speaking at the session titled ‘Reluctance to Criminalise Enforced Disappearance and Arbitrary Detentions’, Pashteen reportedly named national and military institutions while holding them responsible for the extrajudicial killings in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region under a “state of exception.” According to a report in national daily Dawn, the complaint against Pashteen states that he attempted to create resistance among the public toward the armed forces as he accused them of “genocide against Pashtuns.”

28-year-old Pashteen has been among the leading voices raising the Pashtun movement’s demands for fair treatment and the acknowledgment of abuses faced by the community at the hands of the state-military nexus in Pakistan’s northwestern region. He has been a vocal opponent of the Pakistani army and its role in the ‘War on Terror’. Pashteen, along with seven others, founded the Mehsud Tahafuz (protection) Movement in 2014, which later became the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

During his speech on Sunday, the Pashtun activist also highlighted how Ali Wazir, a Pashtun leader and Member of the National Assembly (MNA) of Pakistan, is yet to be released even after over 30 days since his acquittal on September 13. Wazir has been in prison for nearly two years now.

The First Information Report (FIR) against Pashteen invokes sections 124A (sedition), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offense committed in prosecution of common object), and 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code. It also includes Section 11-X (responsibility for creating civil commotion) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.

The conference session where Pashteen spoke was attended by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, Baloch rights activist Sammi Deen Baloch, and Akhtar Mengal, former chief minister of Balochistan and chairperson of the Balochistan National Party, among others. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is the chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, was also in attendance at the conference.

Responding to the FIR against him, Pashteen wrote on Twitter, “The voices of the right against oppression cannot be suppressed by FIRs, prisons or propaganda, but the only solution is to give justice.”

Mohsin Dawar, MNA from North Waziristan, criticized the charges against Pashteen and called for the FIR against him to be withdrawn. He tweeted, “The FIR filed against Manzoor Pashteen for his speech at the Asma Jahangir Conference is beyond shameful. Many others have said far more in recent protests than what Manzoor said in his speech. Yet he is being charged with sedition and ATA. The ridiculous FIR should be withdrawn.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the “unjustified sloganeering” against the army and the use of the conference for political interests. He said in a statement, “It is unfortunate that such forums are being used to target state institutions, especially the armed forces, for partisan political interests.”

With inputs from DAWN and The Express Tribune.