Three days of clashes between Pakistan's PML-N-led government and anti-government protesters outside the official residence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has left at least three dead and hundreds injured.
On September 1 anti-government protesters stormed and seized the head office of the national broadcaster Pakistan Television (PTV) in capital city Islamabad. PTV transmission was suspended for 35 minutes, until paramilitary troops regained control of the state channel. Shortly before ending transmission, the announcer said, “They have stormed the PTV office. PTV staff performing their duties are being beaten up.”
Two political parties are leading the protests — cricketer turned politician Imran Khan‘s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) and anti-Taliban Sufi cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). Both allege that the May 2013 general election, which brought PML-N to power in a landslide victory, was rigged; they want Prime Minister Sharif to step down.
The clashes started in the early hours of August 30, after police in riot gear used tear gas and rubber bullets to fight back massive crowds of protesters — men, women and children — trying to storm the prime minister's secretariat.
— Dunya TV (@dunyanetwork) September 1, 2014
The scenes emerging from Islamabad changed into a battle zone, where tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have been camping out peacefully since August 14 demanding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif step down.
On August 18, supporters of Khan's PTI and Tahirul Qadri's PAT broke through the red zone — a designated high security area — which encloses key government buildings, including the prime minister's secretariat and foreign embassies. Usually, only people with security clearance are able to enter Islamabad's red zone. Twenty thousand police officers and paramilitary forces were called in to guard the red zone. Since the violence started almost all foreign missions have closed down.
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf claimed that real bullets were used and the death toll is more than three:
— PTI (@PTIofficial) August 31, 2014
PTI's Twitter head, Hamza Salman, shared picture of a man covered in blood:
— Hamza Salman (@PTI_tsunami) August 31, 2014
Dr. Arif Alvi, ex-secretary general of PTI, said that protesters were peaceful and had no batons or sticks with them:
PMLN has attempted to destroy peaceful protest, but we have remained peaceful. Brickbat reactions to bullets, and teargassing will continue
— Dr. Arif Alvi (@ArifAlvi) August 31, 2014
Raza Rumi, a political analyst, shared a picture of protesters with sticks:
— Raza Rumi (@Razarumi) August 31, 2014
— عمر آہیر | ج جواد (@aaheer_) August 31, 2014
A peaceful attack on prime minister house is same as peaceful robbery at someone's house: Asma Jahangir
Natalia Tariq, a common citizen in Islamabad, tweeted:
— Natalia Tariq (@NataliaTariq87) August 31, 2014
ARY news, one of the country's biggest TV channels, reported that police raided hospitals to arrest injured protesters, but no other news source verified their claims:
— PTI (@PTIofficial) August 30, 2014
Rumours and conspiracy theories about the death toll is circulating all over social media. Messages were being sent via WhatsApp and Facebook by unknown fake accounts sharing media reports inciting violence and claiming that Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) was hiding dead bodies and the death toll was much higher:
Dead bodies are kept out of sight in the hospitals. Thr is no chance in hell tht thy injured 400 ppl with rubber bullets. #IslamabadMassacre
— Wajahat (@Khattakx) August 31, 2014
Journalist Moeed Pirzada tweeted:
#Just came back from PIMS; more than 300 injured; Hosp under pressure to hide figures of dead & Injured; Riot Police in Hospital Corridors#
— Moeed Pirzada (@MoeedNj) August 30, 2014
Some fake pictures of the injured were also shared by PTI official handles and now circulating social media. Emrys Schoemaker, a British communication strategist and technology specialist based in Islamabad, tweeted:
PTI appropriate image of child killed from coverage of Egypt revolution, an image originally from Lahore massacre: pic.twitter.com/uqi7B8t5Nj
— Emrys Schoemaker (@emrys_s) August 30, 2014
Attack on media:
Angry protesters pelted stones at Geo TV‘s offices in Islamabad. The Geo Network is Pakistan's largest media group and is considered pro-government and pro-democracy. Geo recently faced closure and a fine after a row with the intelligence agency ISI.
Maria Memon, a TV journalist in Islamabad, tweeted a photo of the Geo building:
— Maria Memon (@Maria_Memon) August 31, 2014
“Gullu Butt” is a colloquial term in Pakistan to refer to someone paid to engage in vandalism and/or violence, especially in a political context.
In another incident, the police attacked journalists who went to report on the protests.
Talat Hussain, a journalist and anchorperson, tweeted:
The govt has lost it completely. Assaulting media is criminal. Politically, it is suicidal.
— Syed Talat Hussain (@TalatHussain12) August 31, 2014
According to reports protesters with sticks also attacked police officers.
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) September 1, 2014