Imran condemns police violence on long march participants

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan on Sunday condemned the “police brutality” on participants of his nationwide protest march — Haqeeqi Azadi March — on Wednesday.

The police fired teargas, baton-charged and detained supporters of the former prime minister to stop them from reaching Islamabad to demand fresh elections, witnesses said.

Clashes between Khan’s supporters and activists and police were reported in multiple cities, including Lahore.

The treatment meted out to former Punjab health minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid invited particularly strong uproar and criticism. Footage showed police stopping Rashid’s vehicle in Lahore. An exchange of words could also be seen after police attempted to yank out the key of the vehicle she was travelling in.

A video aired by broadcasters showed police landing blows on her vehicle as it tried to pass through a cordon at Bati Chowk neighbourhood in old Lahore. A non-uniformed individual with his face covered could also be seen in the footage, hitting the vehicle forcefully.

“Condemnable and unacceptable,” Khan said in a tweet he sent out on Sunday. “Flouting the Constitution and Supreme Court orders, this criminal imported government [sic] unleashed police brutality on our peaceful Azadi March protesters.”

Live TV footage showed police fighting with Khan’s supporters, beating them and in some places breaking their vehicles’ windscreens and bundling them into police vans.

Such practices have helped make the police “one of the most widely feared, complained against, and least trusted government institutions in Pakistan”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

Minister for Interior Rana Sanaullah Khan later said police had carried out a total of 4,417 swoops on Khan supporters’ homes, offices and on protest rallies and had arrested nearly 1,700 people. Of those, 250 were later freed, he said.

The government banned the protest on Tuesday, declaring the march illegal and accusing him of seeking to bring protesters to Islamabad with “evil intentions” after a policeman was shot and killed during a midnight crackdown on PTI leaders and supporters across the country.

A retired army commando shot and killed the policeman when a raiding party visited his house in the wee hours of Tuesday, reportedly without a search warrant and permission. The accused and his father had been arrested.

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