Pakistan: Pro-Khan Violent Protesters to Face Terror Trials

General

Pakistan's civilian and military leadership Saturday vowed to hunt down and bring to justice all those involved in acts of violence during this week's protests sparked by the brief arrest of the country's popular former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

"I have given law enforcement apparatus a target of 72 hours to arrest all those involved in facilitating, abetting and perpetrating the disgraceful incidents of arson, ransacking, sabotage and damaging public and private properties," incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said in a statement.

"Bringing these people to justice is a test case for the government. Their cases will be tried by the anti-terrorism courts," he noted.

Pakistan's military chief, General Asim Munir, backed Sharif's resolve in a separate statement Saturday.

"The armed forces will not tolerate any further attempt to violate the sanctity and security of its installations or vandalism and resolve to bring to justice all the planners, abetters, instigators, and executors of vandalism," a military statement quoted Munir as saying.

The government announced the crackdown as police have already rounded up nearly 3,000 supporters of Khan's opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, for their alleged role in several days of nationwide protests.

Detention sparks protests

Lingering political tensions escalated Tuesday after Pakistani paramilitary forces dragged and arrested Khan in the capital, Islamabad, from outside a courtroom as he prepared to attend a hearing in a legal challenge against him.

The detention of the 70-year-old cricket star-turned-prime minister on corruption charges sparked protests across Pakistan, some of which turned violent.

The Supreme Court declared the arrest unlawful, however, and Thursday ordered Khan to be set free, effectively defusing the street agitation, which saw protesters allegedly torching vehicles and state property.

Protesters also stormed the main gate of the military's general headquarters in Rawalpindi, while others broke into the residence of a regional army commander in the eastern city of Lahore. In the northwestern city of Peshawar, protesters set fire to the building which is the home of the state-run radio station.

The violence killed at least 10 people and wounded several hundred, including police officers. Khan alleged that 'live fire' by security forces had killed at least 40 protesters.

Court bars arrest of Khan

On Friday, a federal high court barred police from arresting Khan for two weeks, enabling him to leave Islamabad hours later for his home in his native Lahore. He has faced dozens of cases, ranging from corruption and treason to terrorism and murder, since a parliamentary vote of no-confidence removed him from office less than four years into his term.

Khan rejects all the allegations and has persistently accused the powerful military of being behind the legal challenges to get him disqualified to block his return to power and ban his PTI party, the country's largest political force.

Military officials reject the charges, and Sharif's government insists corruption cases against the deposed prime minister are "genuine" and alleges the judiciary is being soft on Khan.

"Nobody can eliminate a political party by force and put them in jail," Khan said in a televised address Saturday. His speech was streamed live on social media, including YouTube, because the government has barred local television channels from airing Khan's statements.

He rejected allegations that PTI supporters were responsible for acts of violence during the protests and accused pro-government "infiltrators" of the incidents of arson and riots. Khan demanded an impartial investigation into the events starting with his unlawful arrest.

After protests broke out Tuesday, the government blocked internet access to social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter across Pakistan and restored them partially late Friday. But the services again were inaccessible Saturday.

Source: Voice of America