Islamabad police clarify they imposed gathering restriction, not 'curfew' after election

Police in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad have clarified that they announced restrictions on public gatherings but did not impose a "curfew" -- as misleading social media posts claimed -- while results from the recent election were being announced. An Islamabad-based lawyer told AFP that a curfew typically restricts people from leaving their homes rather than limiting public gatherings. 

The misleading claim that a curfew had been imposed in Islamabad was shared in a Facebook post published on February 9, 2024. 

The post's caption reads: "Islamabad police have enforced a curfew in the capital banning public gatherings in the Pakistan capital as election results keep trickling in." 

It also misleadingly included an AFP photo of masked armed Pakistani police commandos that dates back to May 19, 2016. The image shows officers guarding a morgue of a hospital in the central city of Multan where eight bodies of suspected Al-Qaeda militants were kept. 

The superimposed text on the photo reads: "Breaking: CURFEW ordered in Islamabad as election results keep trickling in. Police warn of action against any disturbance."

A screenshot taken on February 15, 2024, of the misleading Facebook post.

The misleading claim circulated one day after Pakistan's general election as protests broke out in some constituencies over the delay in the compilation of results.

Last week's split-verdict national election delivered a surprise boon for independent candidates loyal to jailed ex-premier Imran Khan, defying an army-backed crackdown with a combined showing larger than any other party.

But the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), favoured by the top brass, has since said it would partner with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and some smaller parties to form the next government.

The same misleading claim about a curfew being imposed in Islamabad -- without the AFP photo of armed police -- was shared in Facebook posts here, here and here; and on X here, here, here and here.

Some of these posts shared a screenshot from a live blog by the UK-based news outlet The Independent, which earlier reported the Islamabad police had imposed a curfew,  citing Pakistan's Section 144, a colonial-era law banning public gatherings of four or more people. However, it has since removed that reference in its article. 

As the misleading claim circulated online, police warned people in an X post to observe Section 144 but it did not announce a curfew (archived link).

The Urdu-language post translates as: "Section 144 is in force in Islamabad. In case of any illegal activity, action will be taken.

"Respect for the law is mandatory for everyone. Legal action will be taken in case of any disturbance. Islamabad Capital Police is grateful to the citizens for their cooperation in conducting peaceful elections."

In response to a query from AFP, Islamabad police denied a "curfew" was ever imposed.

"It is a lie and fake news. No curfew has been imposed in Islamabad," Muhammad Taqi Jawad, public relations officer Islamabad Police, told AFP on February 10.  

Osama Malik, an Islamabad-based lawyer, also told AFP that police had restricted gatherings but not imposed a curfew.

"While (Section 144) does impose certain restrictions on people’s freedoms, it is not a curfew," he said on February 13, 2024. "A curfew imposes much harsher restrictions. Section 144 prohibits gatherings but does not restrict movement. A curfew generally imposed almost complete restriction, on citizens, from leaving their homes."

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