Pakistan‘s key opposition party on Monday challenged in the Supreme Court the deployment of the military in civilian areas by the government in an attempt to contain violent protests following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier this month, a court record said.
Khan’s center-right Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in its petition argued that the government’s move is intended to “discord between military and political figures.”
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Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government on May 9 called in armed troops across the country under Article 245 of the Constitution after violent mobs attacked and burned public properties and military installations following Khan’s arrest in a graft scandal.
The article in question allows the federal government to requisite the army to assist civilian administration in maintaining law and order in the provinces.
The PTI urges the top court to declare the invoking of Article 245 and the ongoing crackdown carried out under its jurisdiction “null and void.”
The petition also requested that the government reverse its decision to try in military courts the protesters accused of rioting.
The prosecution of civilians in military courts, it said, is a violation of their fundamental rights.
The government said it arrested over 4,000 protesters for allegedly attacking and torching civilian and military installations across the country.
The PTI, for its part, said over 7,000 of its workers, including women activists, have been taken into custody since May 9, the day Khan was arrested by paramilitary forces from the Islamabad High Court.
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His arrest sparked a countrywide protest in which at least eight people were killed and over 200, including policemen, were injured, according to government figures.
Sharif on Sunday clarified that only those who attacked military installations would face military courts, whereas those who vandalized civilian infrastructures would be put on trial in civilian anti-terrorism courts.
Military court gets parliament’s backing
The National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan‘s parliament, on Monday evening passed a resolution backing the trial of alleged rioters under the army and anti-terrorism laws.
Moved by Defense Minister Khawaja Asif, the resolution was approved by a majority of the lawmakers, state-run Pakistan Television reported.
“The heartless and heart-wrenching incidents took place on May 9,” the resolution read, suggesting that the day should be reckoned as a Black Day.
Meanwhile, a top police official told the Lahore High Court that the police could not trace the whereabouts of a senior journalist and host, Imran Riaz Khan, who was allegedly picked up by law enforcing agencies on May 11 from Sialkot city.
The journalist is not “in our custody,” Usman Anwar, the chief of Punjab police, told the court, insisting that the judge should summon the intelligence agencies and the federal government officials to inquire about the missing journalist’s whereabouts.
Issuing a “strong warning” to the police chief, Ameer Bhatti, the chief justice of Lahore High Court, gave yet another chance to the police to present the missing journalist, who has long been a government and military’s critic, before the court, local broadcaster Dawn News reported.
The South Asian nuclear country has been in the grip of a raging political turmoil, compounded by an ailing economy, since Khan’s ouster through a no-trust vote in April 2021.
The cricketer-turned-politician has not been slowing down since then, demanding snap elections, which are otherwise scheduled for October this year.
Moreover, Khan has fallen out with the country’s powerful army and is facing a plethora of cases that his supporters claim are politically motivated.
He was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau, the country’s anti-graft department, in connection with alleged corruption involving the Al Qadir University Trust.