A Pakistani court on May 20 ordered the release of over 120 supporters of Imran Khan who were taken into custody in Punjab province following violent protests that erupted after the former Prime Minister’s arrest on May 9.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) directed the government to release 123 workers of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party without delay.
The orders were issued by Justice Anwarul Haq of the LHC during the hearing of a petition filed by PTI leader Farrukh Habib who sought the release of the detained party activists, the Dawn newspaper reported.
These workers, arrested from Faisalabad, are currently detained in various jails in Punjab.
The arrest of Khan on May 9 by the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers in a corruption case at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) premises triggered unrest in Pakistan. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the protesters stormed the Army headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi and also torched the Corps Commander’s House (Jinnah House) in Lahore.
Police put the death toll in violent clashes to 10 while Mr. Khan’s party claims 40 of its workers lost their lives in the firing by security personnel.
On May 15, the top military brass vowed to bring the arsonists, who attacked the civil and military installations, to justice through trial under relevant laws of the country, including the Pakistan Army Act and Official Secrets Act.
Law enforcement agencies have arrested over 7,000 PTI workers across Pakistan, 4,000 of them from Punjab.
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Punjab caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi has said that over 500 women are currently being sought by the police in around 138 cases related to the May 9 violence.
In a statement, Mr. Naqvi emphasised that male officers have been instructed not to arrest women, but he emphasised the need to apprehend those responsible for vandalising army installations at any cost.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the government to uphold human rights while prosecuting “more than 4,000 people” arrested in the wake of violent protests.
In a statement on May 20, HRW associate Asia director Patricia Gossman said, “The Pakistani authorities should end their arbitrary arrests of political opposition activists and peaceful protesters. In dispersing violent assemblies, firearms may only be used when using less harmful means are not practicable, and only to the minimum extent necessary.
An anti-terrorism court here on May 19 approved pre-arrest bail till June 2 to Khan in three terrorism cases, including the high-profile Jinnah House attack, filed against the former Prime Minister in the wake of violence that erupted after his arrest on May 9.
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Earlier, in a video-link address from his Zaman Park residence here on May 17, Mr. Khan said Pakistan was heading towards an imminent disaster and it may face disintegration.
Mr. Khan was ousted from power in April last year after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, which he alleged was part of a U.S.-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan.
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