Multiple arrests and unclean cells: Inside Pakistan’s repression 2023

Pakistan’s finance and energy minister, Hammad Azhar, alleges police and plain-clothed officers have broken into his home six times in recent weeks, trashed his things, and threatened his 82-year-old father with his daughter’s abduction.

Last weekend, cops and “unknown people” brought his father to a police station and searched his phone for an hour before releasing him.

Azhar, who is hiding, claims a “fascist regime” is pressuring him to leave Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

“All this is being done because I continue to stand with my party and Imran Khan,” he told Reuters via phone.

Azhar, like other prominent PTI members imprisoned recently, avoided openly blaming the strong army.

Khan has challenged an institution that has governed the nation directly or influenced the civilian administration for three decades.

“It is completely the establishment,” the former cricket hero stated in an interview. “Establishment obviously means the military establishment, because they are really now openly – I mean, it’s not even hidden – they’re just out in the open.”

The administration and police deny coercion of Khan’s supporters. Requests for response from an army spokeswoman were ignored.

Punjab police head Usman Anwar claimed no warrants were needed to raid Azhar’s residence because he is wanted for terrorism for May’s deadly national rallies. Azhar rejects allegations.

Nuclear-armed Since Khan’s 2022 resignation and mass rallies for new elections, Pakistan has been uneasy. Runaway inflation, a falling currency, and the threat of a debt default have exacerbated the problem.

Khan’s arrest on corruption charges in May, which he claims was ordered by the generals, sparked violent nationwide protests, attacks on an air base, military buildings, including its army headquarters, and the burning of a top general’s home by the former prime minister’s supporters.

Since 1947, Pakistan’s military has ruled with fear and respect.

Full Campaign

Rana Sanaullah, Interior Minister, says about 5,000 Khan followers and aides have been arrested since May 9. Arbitrary arrests and disappearances worry rights organizations.

After bail, some pro-Khan MPs were re-arrested.

All freed officials have openly distanced themselves from Khan, criticized the protesters, and applauded the military.

“The entire senior leadership is in jail,” Khan claimed in the interview. “And the only ones who can now get out of jail are those who then say that we renounce being part of PTI.”

His spokesperson Iftikhar Durrani added: “It is a full-blown campaign to dismantle the party.”

“(Party members’) families are being threatened with consequences – physical, mental and financial… to force a leader to quit,” Durrani added.

A former government minister told Reuters through WhatsApp: “Situation doesn’t allow.”

One refused to discuss it, and the other two didn’t answer.

Former Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, Khan’s close confidant, resigned first.

On May 11, police raided her home and detained her. Five days later, a judge released her. She was re-arrested after leaving jail and brought to another location. Three more times.

After her sixth release, she gave a news conference on May 23 to announce her retirement from politics. She wasn’t re-arrested.

Parting ways

Former information minister and close Khan adviser Fawad Chaudhry was detained outside the Supreme Court on May 10 despite protected bail. After his release, cops encircled him again.

“I have decided to take a break from politics, therefore, I have resigned from party position and parting ways with Imran Khan,” Chaudhry tweeted following his release.

Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and former ministers Ali Muhammad Khan, Shehryar Afridi, and Yasmin Rashid were re-arrested despite court orders.

“Yes, there is a lot of pressure, but I’m not ditching the party,” another senior leader, Mehmood-ur-Rasheed, 69, told reporters in handcuffs as he appeared in court. In captivity.

Masood Gujjar, his lawyer, claimed he testified last week that he was tortured in jail. Police deny torturing Rasheed.

In late May, Khan loyalist Malaika Bukhari left the party, citing her two weeks in a “c-class” cell in the hot heat.

C-class cells are tiny rooms with many inmates and a toilet hole in the corner.

“I announce that I’m resigning from PTI and ending all association with the party,” she stated in a news conference, criticizing military property attacks. She said she did so voluntarily.

Khan’s party members said many of the crackdown’s arrestees were imprisoned in comparable or worse circumstances.

Lawyers said political detainees frequently get B-class cells with clean toilets, newspapers, and literature.

After being re-arrested, former marine affairs minister Ali Zaidi left the PTI late last month.

“I’ve decided, and it was a tough decision, that I will quit politics,” he stated. “The armed forces are our pride.”

Past campaigns

Since the government banned “hate mongers, rioters, their facilitators and perpetrators” on local TV last week, Khan has not been mentioned. Not Khan.

Most newspapers no longer cover him.

“Media has completely been muzzled,” Khan stated. “Media cannot mention my name.” My PTI representatives are banned from media.”

Critics and observers say the crackdown resembles military-led operations to break rival political parties in a country where no elected prime minister has served a full term since independence.

The departing party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has accused the army of pressuring its legislators to swap sides to help Khan win the 2018 elections.

Analysts believed the warnings were veiled. Analysts believe the military’s indignation over asset attacks has increased the volume and openness.

Military spokespeople declined to comment.

“The military is striking back with a vengeance,” said professor Aqil Shah, author of “The Army and Democracy in Pakistan”.

In his final days in power last year, General Qamar Javed Bajwa stated the army had meddled in politics for decades but would no longer do so.

Khan has accused army head General Asim Munir of continuing Bajwa’s assault against him. The army stated Khan’s party officials “pre-planned” the May 9 attacks on military posts and will prosecute everyone involved.

Reuters saw a police report charging Khan with abetment.

Author Shah added, “Operation ‘get PTI’ is led by the military.”

“I think we’re seeing the PTI’s controlled demolition,” he added.

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