Govt allows opposition to hold Gujranwala rally ‘subject to terms and conditions’

Punjab government on Thursday granted permission to opposition political parties for holding of a rally at Gujranwala’s Jinnah Stadium on Oct 16 (tomorrow) — the first public show of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) that wants to oust the PTI-led government — but also listed certain terms and conditions that participants would have to follow.

A notification issued by Gujranwala Deputy Commissioner Sohail Ashraf, dated Oct 15, said no participant would be allowed to enter the site of the rally without a mask and everyone would be seated at a distance of three to six feet from each other.

It further states that police can check any vehicle parked at the rally for security purposes. “The organisers will ensure discipline at the venue and cooperate with law enforcement agencies for the maintenance of public order.”

The notification also said no person belonging to a proscribed organisation, or who has been convicted, would be allowed to participate in the rally or address the public.

Meanwhile, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz Sharif has announced that party supremo Nawaz Sharif, who has been convicted in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia Mills references and declared a proclaimed offender by the Islamabad High Court, will address the Gujranwala rally via video link from London.

“@NawazSharifMNS will address Gujranwala jalsa, Insha’Allah! Arrangements being made. What a moment it would be!” she tweeted.

The government has also strictly prohibited “anti-state/objectionable/offensive slogans” at the event in addition to speeches against constitutional offices, armed forces and judiciary.

“In case of violation of any of the terms and conditions, the organisers shall be liable to face legal proceedings and NOC/permission shall be liable to be cancelled immediately,” the notice read.

The PDM’s Gujranwala rally is set to be the first of many in cities across the country as the opposition steps up efforts to oust the government. Leaders of major political parties, including PML-N’s Maryam, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman will participate in tomorrow’s rally.

Maryam will be leading her party caravan scheduled to reach Gujranwala. However, PML-N leaders say the placing of containers in Raiwind forced the party to revisit its strategy regarding her departure.

“Seeing the government’s intentions, we are reviewing Maryam’s departure plan to Gujranwala from her Jati Umra, Raiwind, residence,” a senior PML-N leader told Dawn.

On the other hand, PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman will leave for Gujranwala in a rally from Jamia Ashrafia seminary Ferozepur Road on Friday.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Imran Khan allowed the PDM to hold a rally in Gujranwala, saying it would allow people to judge for themselves how “strong” the opposition was.

He directed the authorities concerned to allow the public gathering during the meeting of the special committee formed to deal with the opposition’s anti-government movement.

The meeting, however, insisted the organisers should ensure that standard operating procedures were observed as the country was experiencing a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

A source at the meeting told Dawn the premier had termed the joint opposition “a gang of dacoits”, which was starting an anti-government campaign just to hide its corruption, adding that the public would see the opposition’s ‘show of power’ itself.

Sedition case

Earlier this month, a case was registered against Nawaz Sharif and other party leaders at the Shahdara police station in Lahore for ‘conspiring’ against the country and state institutions.

In the FIR, the complainant alleged that Nawaz, who has been convicted on corruption charges by Pakistani courts, had delivered “hateful speeches” against the state and its institutions while addressing the multiparty conference (MPC) on Sept 20, and his party’s Central Working Committee (CWC) and Central Executive Committee (CEC) on Oct 1.

The FIR also said that PML-N’s senior leaders who were attending these meetings endorsed Nawaz’s speeches by raising their hands.

Those booked also included the Prime Minister of Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Raja Farooq Haider, former leader of the house in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, former speaker of the National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, ex-federal minister Khurram Dastgir, former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal, former defence minister Khawaja Asif, former information minister Pervaiz Rashid, former law minister Rana Sanaullah, and former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq among others.

However, police later declared all senior PML-N leadership innocent, except for Nawaz, and also removed four sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) from the FIR.

What is PDM?

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is an alliance of 11 political parties, formed after the opposition’s multiparty conference on Sept 20, that seeks the government’s ouster by launching a three-phased anti-government movement under an “action plan” starting from this month with countrywide public meetings, protest demonstrations and rallies in December and a “decisive long march” towards Islamabad in January 2021.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman is the first president of the PDM while Raja Pervez Ashraf of the PPP is the senior vice-president and PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is its secretary general.

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