ISLAMABAD: A former Pakistani state minister and key associate of former prime minister Imran Khan was taken into custody by “unknown people” in the country’s southwest, announced his party on Thursday, demanding his release amid a crackdown on Khan’s supporters which began earlier this year.
The country’s law enforcement agencies started rounding up dozens of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders following the violent protests of May 9 triggered by the ex-premier’s brief detention in a graft case from a court in Islamabad.
Following the clampdown, Khan’s party witnessed a significant wave of defections among its members, while many of his loyalists either remain in hiding, are incarcerated, or continue to confront legal cases against them.
Habib, who previously served as the state minister for information under Khan’s administration, also went underground since the crackdown on PTI leaders began.
“Former state minister, Farrukh Habib, his brother, and four of his associates were detained without a warrant from Balochistan’s Gwadar area at midnight by a person wearing a police uniform accompanied by 7-8 others in plain clothes,” the PTI announced in a social media post on Thursday.
“We hope that all the detainees will be brought to court this morning in accordance with the law, while our lawyers have been alerted to take legal action in this regard.”
Demanding Habib’s release, Khan’s party said his “only crime” was his unwavering loyalty to the former prime minister as well as his refusal to compromise on the interests of the nation.
PTI secretary-general, Omar Ayub Khan, strongly condemned Habib’s detention and raised serious concerns about the legitimacy of the upcoming general elections scheduled for January 2024, questioning how the country’s election regulator would ensure fair electoral process in light of the ongoing crackdown.
“Will the election be a farce? Will a list of people deemed ‘appropriate’ be simply issued by the ECP as having been ‘elected’?” he wrote.
The PTI chief justice also called upon the country’s chief justice, Qazi Faez Esa, to promptly address such “abductions” and put an end to what he characterized as a “complete disregard for and violation of the constitution.”
Ex-PM Khan himself faces a slew of cases and was arrested on August 5 after a court sentenced him to three years in prison in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts he received while in power.
While a Pakistani high court suspended his sentence, a special court formed to hear cases under the recently passed Official Secrets Act, 1923, issued an order to keep him in a “judicial lockup” in yet another case involving a confidential diplomatic cable.
Popularly called the cipher case, it deals with a diplomatic dispatch from Washington, a copy of which prosecutors allege went missing from Khan’s possession after he used it to build a case that the downfall of his administration was part of an international conspiracy.