Pakistan closes art exhibition denouncing deadly police raids

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistani authorities have closed a major art exhibition in Karachi aimed at exposing police raids by an infamous officer who killed hundreds in the southern port city, said Tuesday artists, exhibition organizers and rights activists. .

Artist Adeela Suleman said her work at Frere Hall for the Karachi Biennale consisted of installing 444 small concrete tombstones symbolically marking the number of “extrajudicial executions” in raids by police officer Rao Anwar , an infamous figure from Karachi.

One of the stones honors the memory of Naqeeb Ullah, a 27-year-old aspiring model killed by Anwar’s unit in a 2018 shootout in Karachi. Anwar’s trial in this case is ongoing. Karachi police said the raids were justified operations against militants.

The closure of Suleman’s exhibition on Sunday drew national condemnation from fellow artists and human rights activists who say it was another attempt to censor criticism in Pakistan.

Suleman, a fine arts professor at the city’s Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, said she was “disappointed and sad with the way two men in civilian clothes” arrived Sunday, and forced the organizers to close the exhibition, “right there in the presence of art lovers in the city.”

Men in civilian clothes never spoke to her, she said.

His art was an attempt to tell the story of what many see as extrajudicial killings by an unbridled police force.

“The artists are gravely worried if we cannot speak out,” she said.

Jibran Nasir, a prominent human rights activist, said he himself witnessed how men in civilian clothes – apparently intelligence agency agents – forced the exhibition to close. .

Pakistan has already put in place media censorship and “now artists are also barred from exhibiting their works of art,” Nasir said.

Earlier, Nasir tweeted how his own press conference against the exhibition’s closure was disrupted by “unknown men who threw the media microphones and shamelessly tried to censor us.”

In response to a question from the Associated Press, Karachi police said they had not received any complaints from the artist or the organizers of his exhibition.

Pakistan has in recent months imposed restrictions and restrictions on the media in an attempt to prevent the media from criticizing the government and the country’s powerful military.

The Karachi incident comes days after Pakistan blacklisted and expelled Steven Butler, the Asia Coordinator of the Global Press Freedom Group, Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ.

Butler had landed at Pakistan International Airport in the city of Lahore on a valid visa to attend a human rights conference named after Asma Jahangir, a prominent Pakistani activist who died last year of a heart attack.

Also recently, authorities jailed Mohammad Ismail, father of exiled activist Gulalai Ismail, for allegedly supporting a minority rights movement.


Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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Reggie S. Williams

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