Protests break out in Lahore as interim govt steps up crackdown against PML-N

Supporters of PML-N shout slogans after the sentencing decision against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, during a protest in Multan on July 7, 2018. Photo: AFP

Former PM Nawaz Sharif is expected to land in Pakistan on Friday. As the day approaches, the provincial administration in Punjab stepped up its crackdown against his party workers.

Police raided different parts of Lahore. PML-N leaders say more than 6,000 workers have been arrested and are being shifted to Kot Lakhpat jail. The chairmen of Lahore’s UC-59, UC-65 and UC-66 were among the arrested. Protests broke out following the arrests in Lahore. PML-N activists gathered outside the Shafiqabad police station, shouted slogans against the administration and burned tyres.

The operations DIG issued a statement. According to him, emergency measures are being taken to ensure peaceful elections. “No political party will be allowed to take the law in its hands,” he said. “Strict action will be taken against all complaints of code of conduct violation.”

Raids and arrests were reported in Kasur, too. Kasur councilor Naeem Bhatti and PML-N’s Kasur youth wing president Asghar Ali are among the dozens arrested from the area. After the arrests, many PML-N activists are said to have gone underground. Sources in the party say, however, that between 10,000 and 15,000 PML-N workers will go to the airport to receive the former PM.

PML-N leaders criticised the action against their workers. “What kind of a democracy is this when nominated candidates are being arrested?” said former provincial minister Bilal Yasin at a protest. According to him, PML-N workers are being arrested for no reason.

“We will go to the airport to welcome Nawaz Sharif,” said Yasin.

Former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique echoed a similar sentiment at an emergency press conference.

“We are well aware of this system where the river flows in the opposite direction,” said Rafique. “They are pursuing our workers across the city.”

According to him, some workers have been shifted to Kot Lakhpat jail. For others, house arrest orders have been prepared, he said. “We will still go to the airport to receive Nawaz Sharif,” he said. He demanded the release of party workers and an end to the ongoing arrests.

“If you want to arrest me, you may do so,” said Rafique. “You will be responsible for the reaction. No one can ban freedom of expression. We do not want to go towards a boycott neither do we want to make the elections controversial.”

Former National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq warned the interim Punjab CM Hasan Askari Rizvi against the ongoing crackdown. “CM sahib, arrest me if you have the guts,” he said. “Either arrest me or free our workers. Do not force me to stop you in the way. This is not a martial law and you are here for just 60 days.”

On the other hand, the party is all set with its preparations for Friday. A rally will begin at 3pm from Lohari Gate towards the Allama Iqbal Airport. Former Punjab CM Shehbaz Sharif, who will lead the rally, has asked party workers to join. Party leader Khawaja Imran Nazir said it will be a peaceful rally.