Pakistan arrests senior politician from ex-PM Khan’s party


ISLAMABAD — Police in Pakistan early Wednesday arrested a senior leader of former prime minister Imran Khan’s party on charges of threatening the head of the election monitoring body and other government officials.

The arrest of Fawad Chaudhry, an outspoken critic of the government, is a major setback for his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, of which he serves as vice president. The party quickly condemned the arrest and called for his release.

The arrest took place during a pre-dawn raid on Chaudhry’s home in Lahore, the capital of East Punjab province, his family said. Shireen Mazari, a spokesperson for Khan’s party, said Chaudhry was directly handcuffed by police in Lahore.

Footage released by the party later showed Chaudhry’s supporters gathering in court and throwing rose petals at him as police led him into a courtroom.

Angered by his arrest, hundreds of Chaudhry’s supporters blocked a key road in Jehlum, his hometown in Punjab province, to demand his release.

In a statement, Islamabad police said Chaudhry was arrested following a complaint by the Election Commission of Pakistan accusing him of threatening the head of the election watchdog, Sikandar Sultan Raja, and other officials. . The threats were aimed at preventing them from performing their duties and inciting people to violence against them, police said.

On Tuesday, Chaudhry criticized the election watchdog for appointing a veteran journalist, Mohsin Naqvi, as caretaker chief minister in Punjab. Khan’s party and its allies were in power in Punjab and held the majority of seats in the provincial assembly, but dissolved the chamber earlier this month, a move apparently intended to pressure the government in Islamabad.

The dissolution of the provincial assembly set in motion early elections, which according to the constitution must be held within 90 days.

Chaudhry told reporters on Tuesday that Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government could arrest Khan at any time. Khan, who remains popular with a large following, was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April and has since led the opposition.

A former cricket star turned Islamist politician, Khan was wounded in a gun attack while leading a rally in the capital, Islamabad, last November. One of Khan’s supporters was killed and several others were injured in the shootout.

In October, the election commission barred Khan from public office for five years after it found he had illegally sold state gifts and concealed assets as prime minister. Khan denies the allegation and has filed a motion in court to challenge the commission.

Khan has also claimed he was overthrown in a plot by Sharif and Washington, claims both deny.

Along with the provincial assembly in Punjab, Khan’s allies earlier this month also dissolved the legislature in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf also held majority seats. The party has called for early federal elections, which Sharif’s government has rejected, saying the vote will be held as planned later this year.

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