Crowd size at PDM’s Lahore rally

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Claim: According to various PTI leaders and media sources, the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s rally in Lahore on 13 December 2020 drew a crowd of around 8,500 to 15,000 people.

Fact: While the size of the crowd fluctuated throughout the day, multiple sources agree that the PDM rally attracted a crowd that surpassed 18,000 to 20,000 people.

The Pakistan Democratic Movement has been heavily criticised by members of the ruling party for being unable to draw a significant crowd at its rally this past weekend. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, Firdous Ashiq Awan, stated that the gathering was, “a classroom where MNAs and MPAs have been made to mark their attendance.” She added that only about 10,000 chairs had been set up at Greater Iqbal Park, the venue of the rally, citing this as evidence of PDM’s failure.

Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Shibli Faraz, stated that the rally was, “as cold as the weather,” similarly estimating the crowd at being between 10,000 and 15,000 people. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Shahbaz Gill went as far as to call the rally a “flop”, declaring PDM as having been “buried” by Lahore. Other PTI officials, such as Babar Awan and Faisal Javed Khan, offered similar jibes against the PDM on their Twitter accounts.

Media sources also reported conservative crowd figures from secondary sources. ARY News’ webdesk published an article on the very same day, quoting police sources as having estimated the crowd to be at about 8,500 people. The same article quotes a Special Branch, presumably of the Punjab Police, as estimating the crowd to be at 10,000.

Mubashir Lucman felt particularly strongly about this issue, accusing Al Jazeera English of spreading fake news when they estimated the crowd at being “tens of thousands”. Lucman went onto start the hashtags #aljazeerascals and #Qatar_funds_PDM, which quickly gathered momentum on social media.

Fact Checking the Numbers
Drawing conservative estimates from footage of the rally taken from multiple sources, Soch Fact Check used mapchecking.com to determine minimum crowd numbers. Recommended by The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, mapchecking.com helps estimate how many people could be standing in a given area. From the footage, and by talking to multiple sources who attended the rally, we categorised Greater Iqbal Park into four different sections. A central area (1) in Greater Iqbal Park had been cordoned off for the crowd. As it began to fill up, the crowd spilled over the demarcated area and split up into three flanks. The right (2) and left (3) flanks were more sparsely populated than the middle. Some of the crowd also spilled over behind (4) the cordoned off area, which was the least populated, as can be seen in the footage.

On mapchecking.com, we demarcated the layout of Greater Iqbal Park into these four sections and estimated how many people were in each area per square foot by comparing footage to graphics made by Professor Dr. GK Still, a professor of Crowd Science. We concluded that at least 18,455 people in total attended the rally. That being said, it is important to note that, as the crowd fluctuated, the total number of people who attended over the course of the day may differ from the number of attendees that were present at any given moment in time.

To view the original images from mapchecking.com click here.

With this approximate number in mind, Soch Fact Check reached out to multiple sources to determine if it could be used as an accurate marker for minimum crowd numbers. For our purposes, we chose sources who had actually been present at the rally.

News Editor at The Friday Times, Aima Khosa visited Greater Iqbal Park the night before and noted that preparations had been made to facilitate a capacity of 20,000 people. By the time she entered through the park’s main gate, between 6:00 and 7:00pm the next day, the venue had been filled beyond capacity.

When Khosa entered, numbers that were supposed to be concentrated in the cordoned off area (1) had spilled over onto the sides (2 and 3), and the back of the cordoned off area (4). She feels this may be the reason that many media images show patchy crowds. The stage, she remembers, was crowded by people on all sides.

Channel 24 show host Nasim Zehra was inside the ground during the day, and in the evening, was observing from outside. The crowd can’t be called massive, but it’s untrue to call the rally a flop, she states. The amount of people present definitely surpassed 20,000, she further says.

Journalist Rabia Mehmood attended the rally for an hour, as an observer. Mehmood entered around 7:00 pm, when BNP leader Akhtar Mengal was speaking, and left while Maryam Nawaz was giving her speech. As per her estimate 20,000 is a conservative figure, if one includes the attendees who were observing from the Azadi Chowk Flyover.

Any claims that it was a low-energy affair are untrue, Mehmood notes. Buildup to the rally was visibly on the city’s roads throughout the day. Like Khosa, she points out that the crowd was constantly fluctuating, as people flowed in and out of the venue. It could have been better organised, Mehmood states, and security protocols were lacking. Both women agree that the way it is being portrayed through certain sources, however, is not remotely accurate.

24 News HD’s evening bulletin from the day corroborates our sources. At 5:19 pm, Saleem Bukhari states: “The claim being made by PTI that the Lahore rally will be a failure is not the situation being seen on the ground. With the amount of people at the venue, the rally can in no way be called unsuccessful.”

Al Jazeera English’s television reporter Kamal Hyder, speaking in a personal capacity, said conclusively, “I stand by what I reported to my producer.” Those who had gathered in the morning were fatigued by the afternoon and milling about the rest of the park, or leaving, he says. With the constantly fluctuating crowd and the patches of groups that had formed, it was difficult to estimate an exact number from the ground. At its peak, however, the crowd was easily in the tens of thousands. Al Jazeera’s webdesk declined to comment.

Mubashir Luqman told Soch Fact Check that, while he had not been present at the rally himself, he had been in touch with several sources who had been. He stood by his analysis stating, “My assessment is very clear on the issue.”

Background
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is a coalition of opposition parties demanding an early end to Imran Khan’s government over allegations of rigged elections and poor governance.

In this political atmosphere, it is possible, and likely, that supporters on either side may share misinformation and disinformation about the progress of the movement.

Summary:
The most generous estimates of crowd numbers at PDM’s rally by the opposition landed at 15,000 people. Soch Fact Check found that the rally attracted a crowd of 18,000 to 20,000 people at one time, at the very least.

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