A Pakistani court on Monday warned it would not allow a planned lockdown of Islamabad by opposition leader Imran Khan, saying his party could hold a sit-in at a designated site even as authorities detained some 1,500 supporters of the cricketer-turned-politician.
The Islamabad high court’s order came as a setback for Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which planned to paralyse the city from November 2 to pressure Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to quit over revelations in the Panama Papers leaks that his children owned offshore assets worth millions of dollars.
The PTI is intent on holding the protest at “D Chowk” in front of Parliament. Instead, the high court told the party to protest at the Parade Ground on the outskirts of the city. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddique directed authorities to prevent any blockade.
“If any attempt to block or lockdown the Islamabad Capital Territory is made, the district administration shall act in accordance with law,” said the judge, who ordered Khan to appear in person during the hearing of petitions against his protest. The judge also directed police to provide security to Khan when he comes to court.
In a related development, the Supreme Court said it would take up the Panama Papers leaks case on November 1, just a day before the PTI’s protest.
Police arrested between 1,500 and 1,800 supporters of Khan in an overnight nationwide crackdown, two unnamed security officials told AP. The arrests followed intermittent clashes over the weekend between PTI workers and police in Islamabad.
On Monday, police clashed with some 5,000 PTI supporters on the Peshawar-Islamabad motorway, more than 50 km from the capital. Many of the protestors were from the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which is ruled by Khan’s party.
The stick-wielding PTI workers tried to remove barricades put in place by police, who responded by firing teargas. Police have placed shipping containers on key highways leading to Islamabad to stop convoys of PTI workers.
Khan asked the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice of the arrests of PTI workers, asking under which law they were being detained.
Police also barred PTI activists from making their way to Khan’s residence in the Bani Gala suburb. Police and Frontier Constabulary personnel used teargas to disperse thousands of PTI workers at Swabi in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as they tried to go to Islamabad.
The PML-N governments at the centre and in Punjab province came down hard on the protestors. Federal law enforcement personnel also used rubber bullets against protesters at Swabi and TV footage showed hundreds of them running helter-skelter. Some protesters fainted and others were injured by the rubber bullets.
PTI leaders Arif Alvi and Imran Ismail were briefly detained by Islamabad police. They were taken into custody near Khan’s residence when they threatened to launch a sit-in. Soon after, the interior ministry ordered their release. Alvi, a member of Parliament, said he was “manhandled and dragged” by police.
In a media moment, Khan on Monday demonstrated his fitness by performing pushups alongside other PTI supporters. Singer Salman Ahmed, an ardent PTI supporter, also performed pushups alongside him. Clad in a tracksuit, Khan counted the pushups. “I am still not tired,” he said amid loud cheers and clapping.