Protests and rallies were prohibited in Lahore for seven days, hours before the ex-PM was scheduled to address an election rally.
A province in Pakistan has banned public gathering of more than four people in Lahore for seven days, hours before former Prime Minister Imran Khan was scheduled to address an election rally in the eastern city.
The government in Punjab – Pakistan’s most populous province – on Wednesday said the ban was imposed on “holding all kinds of assemblies, gatherings, sit-ins, rallies, processions, demonstrations, […] protests and such like other activities across the district Lahore to avert any untoward incident”, according to local media reports.
The restrictions came hours before Khan’s Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was scheduled to hold a rally in the city to kick off its campaign for the Punjab provincial assembly election.
Lahore is the provincial capital of Punjab, where polls – due on April 30 – were announced after the dissolution of the provincial assembly. Khan’s PTI had called for the dissolution in a bid to force early national elections in Pakistan.
The government of his successor, Shehbaz Sharif, has dismissed Khan’s demands, saying the vote will take place as scheduled later in the year.
The ban on protests and rallies in Lahore also came ahead of an “Aurat March” (Women’s March) to mark International Women’s Day.
“Under what law” is Punjab’s caretaker government using “massive police violence against unarmed workers to stop our planned rally”, Khan asked in a tweet, calling the government order the “law of the jungle”.
“The only job of caretakers is to ensure fair and free elections. What they are doing is an assault on rule of law, our constitution and democracy.”
This fascist govt cabinet of 78+ jet off across the world on taxpayers money at drop of a hat to speak about human rights. Yet in #Pakistan they beat and attack the very taxpayers who fund their lavish lifestyles – abusing innocent protestors & destroying their property. https://t.co/HpCOSV7eZL pic.twitter.com/ElBo2kGB9t
— Shah Mahmood Qureshi (@SMQureshiPTI) March 8, 2023
Reporting from Lahore, Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said many PTI supporters have been arrested in Lahore for violating the ban on public gatherings. He said the police also fired water cannons and tear gas on Khan’s supporters.
“They have imposed Section 144 which means more than four people cannot gather at one place at the same time,” he said, referring to the colonial-era law. “We were able to see police vans taking away dozens of supporters who were chanting in favour of their party leader.”
“Imran Khan’s party supporters have warned that the government is trying to create a law and order situation in order to postpone the Punjab elections,” Hyder added.
Senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that the ban on protests was “the new weapon of the fascist government” of Prime Minister Sharif and its “imperialist forces”.
“The people of Pakistan have always fought for their rights,” Chaudhry posted.
In April last year, Khan, 70, became the only Pakistani prime minister to be removed from power through a no-confidence vote in parliament. He is facing a slew of cases against him ranging from “terrorism” and attempted murder to money laundering since losing power.
Al Jazeera’s Hyder said more than 70 cases have been registered by the ruling coalition against Khan, calling it a “political vendetta“. He said new cases are being brought against the PTI chief, with the police in Balochistan province likely to issue an arrest warrant against him.
On Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court suspended an arrest warrant against Khan in a case related to the alleged illegal purchase and sale of gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while he was in office.
A single-judge bench of the court ordered the police to not arrest Khan until March 13. The court also ordered the former premier to appear before the concerned court on March 13 in the foreign gifts case.
Police on Sunday tried to arrest Khan from his residence in Lahore, but the cricketer-turned-politician evaded it.
Khan has been living in Lahore since November when he was shot in the leg by a gunman during a protest rally. Since then, he has only once travelled to Islamabad – last week – for court appearances in other cases against him.