Over 400 held in Pakistan crackdown on lawyers, politicians

LAHORE - Over 400 opposition activists across Punjab have been rounded up in a major crackdown by the police ahead of the lawyers’ long march scheduled to start Thursday and sit-in planned in Islamabad next Monday.

The activists were detained Tuesday night and Wednesday while the police also raided the houses and offices of lawyers here, the Dawn News reported Thursday.

‘Except for (former Pakistan prime minister) Mian Nawaz Sharif, (former Punjab chief minister) Shahbaz Sharif and some others, most of the top opposition leaders went into hiding as the crackdown began,’ the report said.

Banners and posters of Sharif brothers and other leaders displayed outside offices of their Pakistan Mulsim League - Nawaz (PML-N) party and on roads and crossings in Lahore were removed by police and city district government employees.

The police detained PML-N Punjab vice-president Mohammad Ilyas Khan from a wedding reception Wednesday night, Shahbaz Sharif’s spokesman Khwaja Imran Nazir was quoted by the Dawn as saying.

The crackdown continued till late in the night.

Sources said the government had decided to place PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif under house arrest by Friday.

Opposition parties alleged that during the raids police personnel misbehaved with women and the elderly.

The Punjab government has imposed orders under Section 144 prohibiting the assembly of five or more people and has directed all divisional superintendents of police to constitute teams to arrest political workers mobilising gatherings.

Deputy Inspector General of Police (operations) Amjad Javed Saleemi said police would maintain law and order and would not allow anyone to disrupt peace.

‘The government has imposed Section 144 to ban public rallies in view of the prevalent security situation. Terrorists can use big gatherings and rallies to carry out their designs and even target political leaders,’ provincial home secretary Rao Iftikhar told a news conference.

Leaders of the legal fraternity and political parties said they were determined to stage the sit-in on March 16 for restoration of the judiciary to the pre-emergency position.

Lahore High Court Bar Association’s former president Anwar Kamal said that lawyers had chalked out alternative plans to reach Islamabad for the sit-in.

‘We reject imposition of Sec 144 on our democratic and constitutional rights. The curbs on assembly and police crackdown cannot deter us from carrying out the peaceful march and holding sit-in. We will reach the Constitution Avenue at all costs,’ he said.


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