Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan appeared set for a confrontation with the government on Thursday after authorities banned all political protests in Islamabad in a bid to thwart his plan to lockdown the capital on November 2.
A defiant Khan said he would go ahead with the protest “at any cost” after the interior ministry issued a statement banning all meetings, rallies and protests in Islamabad for two months.
The Islamabad high court also directed authorities not to block roads with cargo containers ahead of the protest by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party but insisted that no one would be allowed to shut down the city. The court directed officials to inform Khan’s party about restrictions on protests at public places.
Khan signalled he intended to defy the court’s order and told the media: “It is my legal and constitutional right to hold a peaceful protest and I will exercise that right.”
He added, “We will change the fate of Pakistan on November 2, and no one has the power to stop us.”
The cricketer-turned-politician has threatened to lockdown the city to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down over revelations in the Panama Papers leaks that his three children owned offshore assets worth millions of dollars. Sharif has defended his family business and offered to conduct a probe into the allegations.
Hearing a batch of petitions that asked the Islamabad high court to prevent the protest, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui said, “No one will be allowed to shut down Islamabad on November 2.”
He added, “The fundamental rights of the common man cannot be compromised in the name of protest.” The court directed Khan to appear in person on October 31.
The high court said all hospitals, schools and businesses should remain open on November 2 and directed the district administration to designate a specific site for the protest.
Islamabad’s district magistrate also banned public protests and rallies under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. A large contingent of police was posted outside the home of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Jahangir Tareen in Islamabad, a day after the he filed a petition in the Lahore high court seeking the disqualification of the prime minister.
According to reports, Tareen leader was not at home when the police arrived. The reason for the police surrounding Tareen’s residence could not immediately be ascertained. Noting that this was the first time police had been sent to his house, Tareen told the media that his party will not retreat from its objectives.
Khan, who has received support for his protest from Canada-based cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek party and the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a grouping that includes the Jamaat-ud-Dawah and other extremist groups, warned police to avoid any confrontation with “peaceful protesters”.
He accused Sharif’s government of turning the police force into “Gulu Butt” (a local thug). “I warn these officials to stay away from the protesters,” he said.