Pakistan on edge: Protests continue as Imran Khan's arrest sparks outrage

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Supporters block road leading to Islamabad in Faizabad area. Photo by Haseeb Khan (HK). Used with permission.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Supporters block road leading to Islamabad in Faizabad area. Photo by Haseeb Khan (HK). Used with permission.

On May 9, 2023, Tuesday afternoon, Pakistani Rangers (a paramilitary federal force) arrested Imran Khan, the ex-prime minister of Pakistan, from the Islamabad High Court during a court appearance. The news of Khan's arrest has sparked heated demonstrations and raised concerns about political instability in Pakistan.

In a video posted on Twitter by Khan's party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Imran Khan is observed being jostled by several paramilitary rangers into an armored car outside the Islamabad High Court. Khan has a noticeable limp since he was shot during an assassination attempt last year.

Fascism at its peak, the country's former Prime Minister Imran Khan was tortured even though his leg was injured. #ReleaseImranKhan

Khan was taken into custody while attending two court hearings at the Islamabad High Court. The arrest was made in connection to the Al-Qadir University Trust case, which alleges that Khan and his wife received billions of rupees from a real estate company to legitimize a laundered amount of PKR 50 billion (USD 172.59 million). This sum had been identified and returned to Pakistan by the UK during Khan's prior tenure as prime minister.

Akbar Nasir Khan, the Inspector General of the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Police confirmed the arrest and mentioned that Khan had been taken into custody for questioning. Further, he mentioned that the situation in Islamabad is normal and Section 144 — a law that bans a gathering of more than four people at one place for rallies and protests and also bans carrying weapons — has been imposed in the city.

Protests erupt across Pakistan

As soon as the news of Imran Khan's arrest broke, supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party mobilized in the streets in cities including Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar to demand the release of their leader. They chanted slogans like “Khan is our red line.”

In a video shared by journalist Asad Ali Toor, protestors are seen burning the furniture of the house of the corps commander in Lahore.

Extraordinary scenes took place outside the headquarters of the Pakistan Army (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, where women supporters of the PTI led a protest and were seen shaking the gates. Such events are rare in Pakistan and the presence of women at the forefront of the demonstration further heightened the singular character of the protest.

The protests have been particularly intense in Khan's stronghold of Punjab, where thousands of his supporters have taken to the streets, blocking roads and disrupting traffic. Demonstrators set fires, hurled stones, and set tires ablaze on the roads.

The president and senior leader of PTI Sindh Ali Haider Zaidi was arrested by police in Karachi.

Pakistan’s political turmoil

Imran Khan lost a no-confidence vote shortly before midnight on April 9, 2022, resulting in his ousting as Pakistan's prime minister. Later that same year, Khan was targeted in an assassination attempt during a protest march against the government. Khan accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its Director General, Counter Intelligence Major General Faisal Naseer of conspiring to assassinate him.

Inter–Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media and PR wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces, has recently refuted all of Khan's accusations, labeling them as absurd and baseless. Ahead of his court appearance on Tuesday, Khan posted a video statement on social media reiterating his readiness to confront the situation and clearly pointing out that the ISI and Major General Faisal were responsible for all the plots against him.

Several analysts claim Khan's electoral victory in 2018 was made possible by the military. He has turned into one of the army's most vocal critics, and observers consider the army's following is decreasing, as a consequence.

A 2022 protest in favor of Imran Khan by his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Image via Wikimedia Commons by Voice of America. Public Domain.

Internet suspended across Pakistan

In the wake of protests against the arrest of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, Pakistani authorities have suspended social media and internet services throughout the country.

According to Net Blocks, a global internet monitor, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are now restricted across Pakistan.

Amnesty International has urged the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and Interior Ministry to lift the ban immediately.

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