Islamabad, May 21: Hundreds of male and female human rights activists defied a ban on all-gender marathons and ran a race in Lahore today.
The atmosphere in Pakistan’s eastern city was strikingly different from that at another marathon a week ago. Police then had baton-charged the runners and arrested several of them.
But today, 1,200 riot policemen were deployed on the one-km stretch to protect the race that became a cause celebre among Pakistani liberals.
Authorities in Lahore had banned the race after coming under pressure from an alliance of conservative religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Ammal alliance. But President Pervez Musharraf had publicly backed women’s right to participate in sports activities alongside men.
Till late Friday, the officials were not willing to allow the marathon. But they gave permission after the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the organiser, agreed to change the route to avoid any showdown with the opponents.
Several hundred activists from conservative Islamic groups were herded behind barricades to prevent them from disrupting the race.
But few of the participants wore athletics gear and running shoes. Runners in another mixed race in the city of Gujranwala had been attacked last month.
“Down with mullahism” and “no to the military-mullah alliance”, chanted the liberals who turned out to support the right to run. “Neither do we accept any black laws nor will we ever abide by them in future,” human rights activist Asma Jahangir said.
Leaders and workers of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party also participated in the race.