QUETTA: Balochistan Police arrested over a dozen young doctors in Quetta on Monday while they were protesting against the unavailability of personal protective equipment (PPEs) in provincial hospitals as the war against Covid-19 intensifies.
Young Doctors Association (YDA) and paramedical staff began a demonstration from Civil Hospital and marched up to the chief minister’s secretariat where they were met by baton-wielding policemen, who proceeded to baton-charge and arrest several doctors.
Talking to media, YDA Balochistan President Yasir Achakzai confirmed that they had marched up to the CM’s secretariat against a complete lack of protective gear for medical workers who were playing a key role in the country’s fight against the novel coronavirus.
Achakzai said they were baton-charged by security forces, adding that “dozens” were arrested near the Red Zone. A few members of the Balochistan Assembly also reached the venue and tried to negotiate with the protesting doctors and paramedic staff.
Following the arrests, the YDA chief announced a boycott of young doctors’ services from government hospitals. “We suspend all our services following the high-handedness of police,” Achakzai said in an emergency press conference.
Meanwhile, Quetta Deputy Inspector General of Police Razzaq Cheema confirmed the arrests of “dozens” of doctors but denied the use of batons against them. “Yes, police arrested dozens of protesting doctors today,” Cheema said. He denied the allegations that police had assaulted the protesting doctors but added that “a scuffle broke out after the medics tried to cross barricades near the Red Zone”.
However, a video – which has been independently verified – is circulating on social media, which shows the police striking the doctors with batons and forcing them inside police vans. “The protesting doctors have been shifted to various police stations in Quetta,” DIG Cheema said.
The protest in Quetta comes a day after 13 doctors in tested positive for Covid-19 in the provincial capital. In a tweet, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan announced that he met YDA doctors and assured them of his government’s full cooperation in their battle against Covid-19 and in meeting their demands.
Soon after today’s arrests, PML-N President and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif in a tweet condemned the “torture & arrest” of doctors in Quetta, referring to police’s actions as “shameful behaviour”.
PPP co-chair Bilawal Bhutto Zardari lashed out at the government for the violence against young doctors, terming the act “state thuggery”. “Instead of providing them with the requisite protective gear, the government has sent them to jail. At a time when they are needed in hospitals doctors have been sent to jails. What kind of justice is this?” questioned Bilawal.
He said rather than fulfilling their deserving demands, the PTI government is quashing their basic human rights. Bilawal lamented that while doctors all around the world were being praised and supported for being on the frontlines in the war against the virus, Pakistan’s state is sending them to jails.
Saluting the efforts of doctors in Pakistan for their services, Bilawal extended full support for Quetta’s doctors. “The PPP is standing with you. Do not consider yourself alone,” he said in his statement. Chief Minister Balochistan Jam Kamal on Monday chaired a meeting of the provincial cabinet to review provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to medics in the province amid coronavirus pandemic, media reported.
According to details, the meeting mulled over the plans to provide PPE kits to doctors and other demands put forward by the Young Doctors Association (YDA).
A briefing given to the cabinet said that the doctors were provided protection kits as per their demands yesterday and more equipment would reach Quetta by Tuesday (tomorrow) and would be disbursed among them.
“We have already provided 13,000 N-95 masks to the to the doctors and paramedical staff in the province,” it said adding that the Provincial disaster Management Authority (PDMA) and health ministry had provided 2850 PPE kits among doctors. The briefing said that the government could only overcome coronavirus challenge if it fully equips the doctors to fight the infection.
It is pertinent to mention here that earlier in the day, police resorted to baton-charge and arrested several doctors for staging a sit-in in the red zone near the Chief Minister’s House in Quetta.