PM Khan lambasts opposition decision to hold Peshawar rally despite COVID-19 surge

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan during a speech in Islamabad on Feb. 17, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 November 2020

PM Khan lambasts opposition decision to hold Peshawar rally despite COVID-19 surge

  • PDM says all attendees will be required to wear face masks at the rally on Sunday
  • At least 42 people died and 2,843 tested positive in 24 hours as second wave grips the country

KARACHI: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and members of his cabinet have strongly criticized the decision of the country’s biggest opposition alliance to hold a rally in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Sunday, despite a government ban on the gathering which cites rising COVID-19 cases.

The opposition alliance has said it will require all attendees to wear face masks at the rally.

“The same PDM mbrs who had wanted a strict lockdown and criticised me earlier now playing reckless politics with people’s safety. They are even defying court orders & holding a jalsa when cases are rising dramatically,” PM Khan tweeted on Saturday.

Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of 11 political parties, told Arab News on Saturday that its Peshawar rally would go on as planned but with all attendees required to wear masks.

“We are holding the rally but no participant will be allowed to enter without wearing masks,” Muhammad Zubair, spokesperson for Pakistan Muslim League- N leader Nawaz Sharif, told Arab News, and added that special masks with one of Nawaz’s anti-government slogans, ‘Vote Ko Izzat do’ (Respect the Vote) had been arranged for the rally. 

The PDM has been campaigning nationwide to oust the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan and has drawn huge crowds. 

“This government is the representative of a stolen mandate,” Fazlur Rehman, chief of the opposition alliance said on Saturday.

“As we talk about COVID-19, we are also concerned about  COVID-18,” he said, in a reference to the 2018 general elections which PDM leaders say was rigged in favour of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“A historic rally will take place tomorrow in Peshawar,” he continued.

On Friday, Peshawar’s deputy commissioner refused to grant prmission for the PDM rally, and cited the rising spread of coronavirus in the district.

A handout issued by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province’s health department earlier, said an average hike of 12 percent was witnessed in COVID-19 cases in the province in the last three days. 

Numbers of infected people and fatalities across Pakistan are rising to peak levels as the country is gripped in a second coronavirus wave.

“The coronavirus has turned serious due to political gatherings,” Taimur Khan Jhagra, provincial minister for finance and health, said in a statement on Saturday which quoted health professionals to say hospital cases of COVID-19 were exponentially rising.

“Whether we take action or not, we have fulfilled our legal responsibility by not granting permission for holding the rally,” Jhagra said. 

He added that the PTI government had also cancelled its own gatherings in the interests of health. 

But a trust deficit that has reached breaking point between the government and opposition has continued to dominate decisions.

Spokesman Zubair said that at present, the opposition alliance was not ready to believe the government on COVID-19 statistics. 

 “It is the responsibility of the PTI government to brief parliamentary parties with factual situation as the government has inside information,” Zubair told Arab News, and added that the government had only placed a ban on gatherings once its own election campaign in northern Gilgit-Baltistan ended and its own minister held his public rally. 

“There is so much politics that goes on in Pakistan that nobody knows that what the reality is,” Zubair continued.

“The government didn’t do anything and we saw a huge funeral taking place today,” he said, in a reference to the funeral prayers of hardline cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, which was attended by tens of thousands of people in the eastern city of Lahore.

“It (government) hasn’t taken any other action,” Zubair said.

“Are they stopping overcrowded buses? Have they closed malls and shops...Restaurants are open till 10pm... weddings with participations of 300 people is also allowed,” he said.

According to official data, at least 42 people died and 2,843 more were infected with COVID-19 in Pakistan during the last 24 hours-- bringing the total count of infected to over 371,000.

Lawyer for Daniel Pearl's family faces uphill legal fight

Updated 15 January 2021

Lawyer for Daniel Pearl's family faces uphill legal fight

  • Faisal Siddiqi says overturning even the kidnapping for ransom charge will send Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh back to death row
  • Sheikh, who allegedly lured Pearl to his death, was acquitted in April due to insufficient evidence

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani lawyer for the family of slain American journalist Daniel Pearl faces an uphill battle to overturn the acquittal of a British-born man convicted in the 2002 murder.

That's because the prosecutor in the original case tried all four men — including Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man believed to have lured Pearl to his death — as one, with the same charges against all even though each played a different role.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Faisal Siddiqi, the lawyer for Pearl’s family, said that although the initial prosecution had painted the four defendants with the same brush, “You don’t, because of doubt in one or two or three pieces (of evidence), acquit them all.”

The four men were acquitted in April on the grounds that the initial prosecution’s evidence was insufficient. Siddiqi said his argument now before the Supreme Court, Pakistan's highest, is that conspiracy, kidnapping for ransom and murder deserve separate consideration.

Siddiqi said the Supreme Court hearing to overturn the acquittals will resume Tuesday, and most likely reach its conclusion before the end of January. Both the Pearl family as well as Pakistan’s government separately have appealed the acquittals.

Siddiqi said overturning even the kidnapping for ransom charge would send Sheikh back to death row, where he'd been since his conviction in 2002. He was transferred to a jail in the port city of Karachi in Sindh province, after the Sindh High Court overturned his conviction. The three others charged in Pearl's murder — Fahad Naseem, Adil Sheikh and Salman Saqib — were acquitted on all charges.

Sheikh was sentenced to death, and the other three to life in prison for their roles in Pearl's murder.

Siddiqi said he’s argued that the judges have a duty to both the accused and the victim, and while “no innocent person should be convicted ... no guilty person should be set free.”

The Pearl family’s lawyer said the overwhelming sentiment is “whenever there is a doubt, let us free the accused, never thinking what happened to the victim,” adding that he's asking the judges to “restore the balance between the accused and the victim.”

The acquittal outraged the United States, and last month the US warned it won’t allow Sheikh to escape justice. Acting US Attorney General Jeffery Rosen praised Pakistan for appealing the Sindh court’s order but said if “those efforts do not succeed, the United States stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial” in America.

Sheikh remains in jail even as the Sindh High Court last month ordered him freed while the appeal is being heard. Sheikh's lawyer, Mehmood A. Sheikh, no relation, has taken the demand for his client's freedom to the Supreme Court. Until now it has not ruled on the release.

Siddiqi said the prosecutor in Sheikh's original trial was held under considerable duress caused by militant Islamists, who issued threats to the attorney general, and which even forced the court hearing to be held within the confines of the jail.

Sheikh was convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in Karachi, where he was kidnapped. Pearl had been investigating the link between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the “Shoe Bomber” after trying to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.

A gruesome video of Pearl’s beheading was sent to the US Consulate. The 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter from Encino, California was abducted Jan. 23, 2002.