Pakistani police detained hundreds of supporters of ousted prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party ahead of a major sit-in planned by the former leader, senior party members and police sources said Tuesday.
Khan, a cricket star turned populist politician, was kicked out of power last month through a vote of no-confidence, but has heaped pressure on the country’s fragile new coalition government by staging mass rallies across the country since then.
“More than 200 supporters of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) have been arrested in Punjab,” a police official in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s largest province, told AFP on condition of anonymity. “We have raided their houses and have arrested many of them.”
A second official, asking not to be named, provided the same information, adding that those arrested had been booked on public order offences and remain in detention.
Khan has alleged that he was removed through a “foreign conspiracy”, and plans on Wednesday to lead an anti-government march from his power base in the northwestern city of Peshawar to the capital Islamabad, with tens of thousands expected to attend.
The former prime minister said he would stage a sit-in until the government dissolves parliament and sets a date for fresh elections.
Fawad Chaudhry, the former information minister in Khan’s government, accused police of carrying out the overnight raids without warrants and put the number of arrested at more than 400.
“More than 1,100 houses were raided overnight. Police entered the houses without any warrants and insulted women and children,” he tweeted.
Police have not officially commented on the arrests or allegations.
On Tuesday, Khan tweeted that his supporters had a right to peacefully protest.
“The brutal crackdown on PTI (leaders) & workers in Punjab & Islamabad has once again shown us what we are familiar with — the fascist nature of PMLN when in power,” he said in a tweet, referring to the party of current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
On Saturday, senior PTI leader and former minister Shireen Mazari was arrested near her house in the capital over a decades-old land dispute. She was briefly detained before a court ordered her release.
In 2018, Khan was voted in by an electorate weary of the dynastic politics of the country’s two major parties, with the popular former sports star promising to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism.
He was brought down in part by his failure to rectify the country’s dire economic situation, including its crippling debt, shrinking foreign currency reserves and soaring inflation.
Sharif is now grappling with the same crisis, as well as rising militancy and soured relations with the West.