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Protests break out against arrest of Pakistan ex-Premier

May 9, 2023 at 8:56 pm

Former Pakistani Prime Minister and Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan leads a rally to show solidarity with Constitution, Supreme Court and Chief Justice of Pakistan in Lahore, Pakistan, on May 06, 2023 [Khurram Amin/Anadolu Agency]

At least one person was killed and several others injured after protests broke out across Pakistan against the arrest of former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, on Tuesday.

Khan, 70, was taken into custody by paramilitary troops from the Islamabad High Court for his alleged involvement in a case filed by the anti-corruption body, the National Accountability Bureau.

Thousands of Khan’s charged supporters took to the streets in the capital, Islamabad, the port city of Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Quetta, Sialkot, Sargodha, Mardan, Nowshehra and other cities to protest against his arrest.

One person was killed and several were injured in a clash between protesters in Quetta, the capital of south-western Balochistan province, local broadcaster Dawn News reported.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI) party claimed the deceased was its worker. There was, however, no official word on the incident.

Arrest ‘legal,’ says court

In a ruling issued late Tuesday evening, the Islamabad High Court declared Khan’s arrest in the corruption case as “legal”.

Chief Justice, Aamer Farooq, announced the judgement hours after he reserved the verdict earlier in the day, the state-run Pakistan Television reported.

Farooq also issued a contempt of the court notice to Islamabad Police Chief and Interior Secretary for “arresting Khan from the court premises”.

Protests in several cities

In Islamabad, and adjoining Rawalpindi, hundreds of PTI activists blocked the main Kashmir Highway, which suspended traffic on either side of the road.

Police arrested over a dozen of PTI workers after the two sides clashed at several points.

Islamabad police, in a tweet, said five police personnel were injured in clashes with protesters, while at least 43 PTI activists were arrested.

Footage aired on multiple local TV channels showed angry protesters pelting stones on riot police, who, in return, fired teargas shells and used water cannons to disperse them.

The government also banned gatherings and protests across Pakistan to avert protests.

In Lahore, the country’s second-largest city, protesters gathered outside Khan’s Zaman Park residence and blocked the adjacent roads by burning tires. Police used water cannons to disperse the protesters.

Unverified videos circulated on social media showed protesters entering the house of the military commander of Lahore.

In the southern port city of Karachi, PTI supporters gathered outside the local party office located along the city’s busiest Shahrah-E-Faisal thoroughfare.

Police in the financial capital also arrested two PTI lawmakers.

Both tracks of the road near the PTI office were closed to traffic, as heavy contingents of police cordoned off the area.

Police also hurled teargas shells to disperse the protesters when they tried to block the road.

TIMELINE: From ouster to arrest: Key dates in Imran Khan saga in Pakistan

Meanwhile, a group of protesters pelted stones and burned tires at Burns Road, the city’s famous food street, suspending traffic and forcing shopkeepers to pull their shutters downs.

At least seven PTI workers and four policemen were injured after the two sides clashed in the north–eastern Faisalabad city, according to the local broadcaster, GEO News.

In the north-western Landi Kotal town, which borders neighbouring Afghanistan, protesters blocked the Pak-Afghan highway at two points, Dawn News reported.

In Peshawar, PTI workers stormed the provincial assembly building and broke the main gate.

Protesters to be dealt with ‘iron hand’

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Interior Minister, Rana Sanaullah, warned that protesters will be dealt with an “iron hand” if they take the law into their hands.

“Strict orders have been issued to the law enforcing agencies to take stern action if protesters try to disturb life,” he said.

According to Sanaullah, Khan and his wife are accusing of taking bribes and nearly 500 acres of land for their proposed university, in return for releasing £190 million ($239 million) to a property tycoon.

The money in question was transferred to Pakistan by the UK after the latter’s National Crime Agency accepted a settlement offer by Pakistan’s property tycoon, Malik Riaz, who was charged with bribery and corruption overseas in December 2019.

Difficulty in access to social media and disruption in internet services were observed in Pakistan as protests over the arrest of Khan spread nationwide.

Amnesty, EU urge ‘restraint’

Amnesty International and the EU have urged Pakistani authorities to show “restraint”.

“The clashes unfolding between Imran Khan’s supporters and security enforcement following the former Prime Minister’s arrest risks several human rights violations,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

It also called on authorities to show restraint and to ensure that any response is in line with the “principles of proportionality, legality, necessity and non-discrimination.”

An EU spokesperson called for “restraint and cool headedness”.

“In the context of Tuesday’s arrest of former Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, the European Union emphasises that in such difficult and tense times, restraint and cool headedness are needed,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Pakistan’s challenges, said the spokesperson, can only be addressed and its pathway can only be determined by Pakistanis themselves, through “sincere dialogue and in line with the rule of law.”

‘May not get chance to address you again’

Sensing what was coming, Khan, in a video message he released a few hours before his arrest, called on his supporters to come out as “freedom is not given on a plate — you have to work hard and struggle for it.”

“My fellow Pakistanis, when these words of mine reach you, I will already be detained in an unlawful case. After this, you all should realise that fundamental rights, law, and democracy have been buried,” Khan said.

“Maybe it is possible that I won’t get a chance to talk to you again. That’s why I want to talk about two or three things,” he added.

This, he said, is being done to force him to accept “this corrupt cabal of crooks imposed on us. They want me to accept them.”

“I appeal today to everyone that you all have to come out. Freedom is not given on a plate — you have to work hard and struggle for it,” he concluded.

Khan has been charged in a number of cases, which, his party says, are politically motivated, ranging from corruption, terrorism and rioting, since being ousted from power in a no-confidence vote last April.

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