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Families of Peshawar Massacre Victims Demand Justice During Emotional Protest

Demonstrators voiced disapproval with the Pakistani government's investigation into the school attack last year that left 141 people dead, including 132 children.

by Mohammad Zubair Khan
Feb 8 2015, 5:45pm

All photos by Mohammad Zubair Khan

Families of the victims of the Peshawar school massacre staged a protest Saturday to voice their disapproval with the Pakistani government's investigation into the attack last year that left 141 people dead, including 132 children.

Men and women of every age attended the demonstration and march through the streets of the northwestern city of Peshawar. The protesters carried banners and signs that read, "We want books not guns," "Sorry kids, no banner is enough to cover the shame of the state and government," and "Why is the government silent?" The crowd also chanted, "Justice is the only solution to terrorism."

In the December 16 attack, armed members of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan — also known as the Pakistani Taliban — entered the Army Public School in Peshawar and methodically moved from classroom to classroom, killing schoolchildren and teachers. The Taliban said it was retaliation for the army's ongoing campaign against militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.

'Life After the Massacre: Terror in Peshawar': Watch the VICE News documentary here.

Survivors and relatives of the victims say they the investigation into the attack has been too slow, and that they have received little information from the government. Leaders of the protest Saturday demanded that the perpetrators of the attack be arrested and threatened to take the demonstration to the capital of Islamabad if necessary.

"Government is responsible for giving us justice and we are committed to get it any way," leader Arif Ali Bangish said. "If the government does not react positively, then we will start a countrywide protest."

Bangish also threatened to stage a sit-in "for an indefinite period" in front of the homes of Pakistan's prime minister and the chief minister of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where Peshawar is located.

Guls Bhar, grandmother of two boys killed in the massacre, said she hails from a Pashtun area known for its many vendettas and feuds, but women and children were never targeted in the violence. She told VICE News it was the first time she had ever protested.

'Face to Face with a Gunman': A survivor of the Peshawar massacre tells VICE News what happened that day.

"I want to say to the Pakistan army that they should crush the terrorists, otherwise I myself will came out with weapons and will fight against them," Bhar said. "I want revenge for my two grandsons — nothing more than that and nothing less than that."

The Pakistani government claimed that troops killed the suspected mastermind behind the school attack — a Pakistani Taliban leader named "Saddam" — during a December 26 shootout in the tribal area of Khyber, which borders Peshawar. Six other suspected Taliban members were also taken into custody during the Khyber raid.

Rizwan Afridi, the father of a slain student, said the protest was intended to "give awareness to the whole nation."

"Now it is time to end the terrorism and extremism and it is time to make Pakistan a peaceful country," he said. "Our children are with us no more but now we want to save whole nation's children. This is right time for the nation to stand behind the Pakistan army and execute those responsible."

Afshan Nasir, the mother of a student killed during the attacks, wept virtually nonstop during the rally. Her nephew was also a victim of the massacre.

"No culprit of the terrible incident has been arrested," Nasir said. "Now I am here to protest for the other children of the nation. Why is the blood of our sons so cheap? Why has no one resigned and no one accepted responsibility?"

Pakistan responds to Peshawar massacre by arming its teachers. Read more here.

The Pakistani government hanged 22 militants in the wake of the attack after a six-year ban on executions for people convicted of terrorism was lifted. The country also amended its constitution to allow terror suspects to be tried in military court. According to AFP, the military said Saturday that it received the first batch of 12 terrorism cases to be tried in military courts.

"We want nothing from government but justice," Kiran Sardar, the sister of a slain student, told VICE News. "We arranged this rally to give our nation awareness and a wake up call to the rulers that now they must protect the rest the nation's children."

Sardar, herself a student at a local college, fought back tears as she spoke.

"Those who massacred the students are not human beings and are not even animals," she said. "They deserve punishment and must hang in front of the public." 

Follow Mohammad Zubair Khan on Twitter: @HazaraZubair