ISLAMABAD: Police in Punjab arrested hundreds of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers from various cities in the province on Thursday, said Sen. Mushahidullah Khan, the party’s central information secretary.
“Hundreds of our workers have been arrested from Lahore, Rawalpindi and other districts in a police crackdown,” he told Arab News on Thursday.
The arrests took place a day before former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were due to return from London.
They have said they will arrive in Lahore on Friday evening, a week after being sentenced to 10 and seven years in prison in a graft case, respectively.
Local party leaders have vowed to give them a grand welcome upon their arrival, and the PML-N has directed its workers to go to the airport in large numbers.
Khan said Punjab’s caretaker government had resorted to undemocratic means to dampen the spirit of PML-N workers who wanted to receive their leaders at the airport.
“We’re peaceful people, and it’s our democratic right to welcome Nawaz Sharif and Maryam at the airport,” he said, adding that several local government representatives were arrested.
Lahore’s administration alone had passed orders to arrest more than 300 PML-N workers before the arrival of Sharif and his daughter, Khan said.
“Local administrations across Punjab are creating hurdles for our workers to reach Lahore. This is totally unacceptable in a democracy,” he added.
The deputy inspector general of Lahore police, Shahzad Akbar, on Thursday said police were taking precautionary measures to help the Election Commission of Pakistan hold the July 25 general elections peacefully.
He added that the Home Department had provided a list of agitating political workers to officers to ensure their house arrest, and to arrest those who were guilty of violating section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits assembly of five or more people.
Sharif and his daughter have been in London since June 14 to attend to his ailing wife Kalsoom Nawaz.
Prof. Tahir Malik, a political analyst and academic, said: “People cannot be stopped from exercising their democratic right of assembly.”
The arrest of PML-N workers will only increase public sympathy for Sharif and his daughter, Malik added, urging Punjab’s government to remain neutral.
“Its partiality will put a question mark over the credibility of elections in the province,” he said.
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, a political analyst and professor at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, said the police crackdown on PML-N workers will raise questions about pre-poll rigging.
“If political wrangling continues until polling day, this will put a very serious question mark on the results of the elections,” he told Arab News.
“In any democracy, people come out on the streets to protest when their freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are curtailed.”