ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The hamburger restaurant appears to have little power against the police. Local agents had become accustomed to receiving free food from its intimidated employees, so when they encountered resistance, they threw 19 of the restaurant workers in jail.
The restaurant owner took the only solution he thought he left: he made his online justice pleas.
The resulting outrage on social media led to the suspension of nine police officers in Lahore, a city in eastern Pakistan, and highlighted the persistent police corruption in the country. The imprisoned restaurant workers were released and local police officials pledged to improve law enforcement behavior.
“We were blown away by the response we received,” said Gohar Iqbal, general manager of the six-year-old Johnny & Jugnu restaurant chain, which sells burgers, wraps and lemonade at three locations in Lahore. “Within hours, customers spread the word, with numerous messages that they had spoken to higher authorities on our behalf.”
Inam Ghani, the provincial police chief, took note and ordered the Lahore police to take action against the police. “Officers and personnel involved in illegal activities do not deserve any concessions,” Ghani said in a statement.
No one was injured in the confrontation between the police and the hamburger vendors. But the episode struck a chord in a country where police corruption is a persistent problem, especially for much more serious crimes such as extrajudicial killings and brutality. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan made police reform a major election promise in the 2018 general election.
Lahore is the provincial capital of Punjab, the country’s most populous and prosperous province, where the police are particularly known for their corruption and abuse. Earlier this year, his senior authorities replaced Umar Sheikh, the police chief of Lahore, who had been appointed a few months earlier with the promise to transform the city force into, in the end, the “New Police”. York ”. But Mr. Sheikh himself had been surrounded by controversy.
Smaller abuses have also angered residents of Lahore. Small businesses there have often accused the police, tax authorities and others of demanding favors such as free food or large discounts.
“It is very common for the police to ask for free food,” said Mr. Iqbal, of Johnny & Jugnu. “But what was concerning, in this case, was that the requests kept increasing, culminating with the Friday night episode.”
Last Friday evening and early Saturday, according to Mr Iqbal, a group of police showed up at a Johnny & Jugnu store in an upscale Lahore neighborhood with the intention of marking a free meal. Failed to get what they wanted, police took the 19 workers into custody for several hours, claiming they had broken coronavirus protocols. The video showed the police go to the counter, enter the kitchen and then escort the workers. Business in the restaurant is at a standstill.
“The food was inside the deep fryers, the cash in the tiller was left unattended and customers were waiting when the police transported the crew to the police station,” Iqbal said.
For nearly seven hours, he and other senior executives at his fast food chain lingered outside the police station trying to figure out what had happened. Police told them restaurant workers had not been respectful on a previous visit, in addition to denying officers free burgers.
The restaurateurs have decided to publish a statement on social networks, mainly Instagram and Facebook, to protest against the arbitrariness of the police. They also sent a statement to small restaurant owners, asking them, “How long are we going to be blackmailed?” “
The workers were released the next day after the posts sparked an uproar on social media.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Ghani, the provincial police chief, invited Mr. Iqbal to his office in Lahore to allay the concerns. “The police chief said he was glad we spoke,” Iqbal said. “He promised strict action against such practices. We are very encouraged by his response.