Imran Khan calls for nationwide ‘freedom’ protests after arrest in Pakistan

Screen grab from Imran Khan's address to nation.

Imran Khan, the former prime minister of Pakistan, has called for nationwide “freedom” protests today after last week’s unrest following his brief arrest and detention. The former cricket star, who has faced numerous legal cases since his removal from office in April last year, was released on bail on Friday when the Supreme Court declared his detention unlawful, AFP reported.

Khan’s arrest sparked outrage among his supporters, who set fire to government buildings, blocked roads, and damaged military property, blaming the military for his downfall. In a YouTube broadcast address on Saturday night, Khan encouraged his supporters to hold demonstrations throughout the country today and announced his return to campaigning on Wednesday for immediate elections.

In recent months, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leader has been engaged in a campaign of defiance against the military. His arrest on Tuesday occurred just hours after he made allegations that senior officials were involved in an assassination attempt against him last year. Pakistan’s powerful military has directly governed the nation for about half of its 75-year history and continues to exert control over the political system.

During his address, Khan accused the army chief of causing the military’s negative reputation, although it was unclear if he was referring to the current chief or his predecessor, whom Khan has blamed for his removal from office.

However, Khan distanced himself from the protests’ attacks on military installations, denying his party members’ involvement and urging an independent investigation into the violence. The military, which denies Khan’s allegations, warned against any attempts to create “misperceptions” against the institution on Saturday.

At least nine people were killed during last week’s unrest, according to police and hospitals. Hundreds of police officers were injured, and authorities detained more than 4,000 people, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. At least ten senior PTI leaders have been arrested since the protests began, according to one of Khan’s lawyers.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who leads a fragile coalition, warned on Saturday that anyone involved in “facilitating, abetting, and perpetrating” the violence should be arrested within 72 hours.

On a visit to Lahore, he said…

“Those who demonstrated anti-state behaviour will be arrested and tried in anti-terrorist courts.”

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has repeatedly vowed to re-arrest Khan, who remains popular ahead of the elections scheduled for October. The Islamabad High Court ruled that Khan should receive protection from arrest until tomorrow.

Khan was elected in 2018 on an anti-corruption campaign, appealing to an electorate tired of decades of dynastic politics. Independent analysts suggest that Khan was supported by the military to gain power before falling out with the generals.

“Everyone knows who it is. It’s the military behind (Khan’s arrest),” 21-year-old PTI supporter Mohsin Khan told AFP outside the party chief’s residence. The young pushcart seller added that he desired the military and politicians to “work together.”

The ongoing political crisis has escalated, with Khan trying to undermine the coalition government by dissolving two provincial parliaments under his control and demanding early elections. Services such as mobile data and access to social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube, which were cut following Khan’s arrest, have been partially restored.

An editorial in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper, suggests that the country is now bracing for a “progressively ugly showdown in the days and weeks to come.” It stated, “None of the leaders, political or institutional, who are invested in this tug-of-war appear ready to take a step back.”

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With a Bachelor's Degree in English, Jenn has plenty of experience writing and editing on different topics. After spending many years teaching English in Thailand, Jenn has come to love writing about Thai culture and the experience of being an ex-pat in Thailand. During long holidays, she travels to North of Thailand just to have Khao Soi!