Human Rights Watch (HRW) Tuesday called for Pakistani authorities to “refrain from the unlawful use of force” against protestors in support of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. At the same time, HRW called for all of those responsible for unlawful violence to be held accountable.
Violent clashes between protestors and police have been ongoing since proceedings began regarding the Election Commission of Pakistan’s finding that Khan is guilty of “retaining and selling gifts.” In one such instance, on March 19, an attempted arrest of Khan by Pakistani authorities led to the deployment of tear gas and water cannons as well as multiple arrests.
Since March 18, authorities have arrested a total of 198 protestors. Lahore, Pakistan police chief Bilal Kamiana told Reuters, “Police are raiding the houses because seven cases on various charges, including terrorism, have been registered against the leaders and workers.”
In response to the arrest figures, associate Asia director at HRW Patricia Gossman said:
The use of Pakistan’s vague and overbroad anti-terrorism provisions against opposition protesters is very worrying. If the authorities believe that Khan’s or his supporters’ actions have resulted in violence or constituted a real threat to public safety, they should be charged under the appropriate laws.
Pakistan local news coverage claims that multiple terrorism cases have been brought against members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf (PTI) party. Khan has taken to Twitter, condemning the authorities and claiming that his supporters are being brazenly targeted. On March 19, Khan stated, “Fascism at unprecedented levels with police in Islamabad raiding homes without warrants to abduct PTI workers….We demand the immediate release of all our workers & their children who have been abducted.”
The Election Commission of Pakistan found Khan guilty of illegally retaining and selling state gifts from foreign dignitaries in October 2022. Following charges from the Pakistani Federal Agency regarding the crimes, Khan failed to attend a court hearing and an arrest warrant was subsequently issued, but unsuccessfully executed two times. Khan finally appeared in court on March 18 as supporters surrounded his vehicle, clashing with authorities.