By Shakir Husain
NEW DELHI, May 16 (NNN-Bernama) — More than 7,000 people have been arrested in the Pakistani government’s widening crackdown on opposition leader and former prime minister Imran Khan’s supporters across the country.
“Thousands of people are under arrest without access to lawyers. They have been picked up and kept illegally without following the due process of law,” Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) senior leader Hammad Azhar said on Monday night.
“Almost all of them have not been presented in front of a magistrate within 24 hours as required by law. This is illegal abduction,” he said.
The crackdown on the PTI and its supporters intensified last week after Imran’s arrest by the paramilitary force Rangers on May 9 sparked nationwide protests during which many people were killed and injured in clashes with police.
The PTI in social media posts said security forces have been arresting party supporters, office-bearers, parliament members, and their family members, including women, from homes.
It said “hundreds of them are reportedly being tortured to give false statements” against the party leadership.
Shandana Gulzar Khan, a former parliament member, said “we are under siege” and many women leaders remain in detention.
The crackdown is especially harsh in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the two provinces under the caretaker administrations installed after the PTI relinquished power there in January in order to have fresh mandates.
Elections have not been announced in the two provinces despite a constitutional provision stipulating that they must take place within 90 days of an assembly’s dissolution.
Imran said on Monday 7,000 people, including the PTI’s top brass, have been arrested.
The government blames his supporters for the violence in various locations, including at some army-linked facilities, during last week’s protests.
The Pakistani army on Monday said those involved in the attacks against the military installations and personnel “will be brought to justice through trials under relevant laws of Pakistan including Pakistan Army Act.”
In a statement issued after a meeting of commanders, the army said that “restraint will no longer be exercised against perpetrators, spoilers and violators who attack military installations and setups under any circumstances.”
Imran in a video statement said the violence was part of a well-organised plot and blamed the security agencies for being involved in it.
“We have ample amount of evidence to present to any independent inquiry that the arson and in some places shootings were done by agencies men who wanted to cause mayhem and blame it on PTI so the current crackdown would be justified,” he said.
Imran’s party is widely expected to win national and provincial assembly elections whenever they are held.