“Police must not comply with Imran Niazi’s orders to arrest PMLN/PDM’s workers, raid their homes or hinder their travel to Gujranwala,” PLM-N leader Nawaz Sharif tweeted Wednesday, ahead of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)’s first public demonstration to be held in Gujranwala on 16th October.
The PDM, comprising 11 political parties, is a newly formed opposition alliance that seeks to fight against the government for the “supremacy of democracy.” Headed by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the alliance swears by the sanctity of the vote, using the “vote ko izzat do” slogan that was originally coined by PLM-N. Other opposition parties, including the PPP, echo the sentiment. It was announced in a meeting held on Monday that the alliance would launch a series of anti-government protests from Friday, with Gujranwala its starting point.
PDM claims that ahead of the protest campaign, over 400 opposition workers have been arrested under orders of PTI government on the charge of flouting COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) across Punjab. Consequently, a petition has been filed by the opposition on Thursday with the Lahore High Court, suggesting that the arrests violate Article-15 of the Constitution, and urging the court to release the detainees.
PML-N alleged that many arrests had been made in Lahore and other districts to disrupt the Gujranwala rally. The placing of containers in Raiwind is also seen as method to sabotage the departure of Maryam Nawaz, who is leading her party into the protest, to Gujranwala from her Jati Umra residence.
Meanwhile, PDM president Fazlur Rehman is due to depart for the protests in a rally from Jamia Ashrafia seminary on Ferozpur Road.
There have been multiple arrests made in the following areas:
In Gujranwala, police registered first information reports (FIRs) against PML-N leaders Mudassar Qayyum Nahra, Mazhar Qayyum Nahra, Gulzar Ahmed, Tariq Cheema, Dr Munir Ahmed and 250 others under sections 188 and 269 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for holding a public gathering without observing Covid-19 SOPs.
In Lahore, according to PML-N, police arrested its local body representative Qari Hanif from Nishat Colony. Employees of Qarif Hanif and Salim Rahmat were also arrested during a raid at their residence. Police also raided the residence of former councillor M Tariq in Lohari Gate.
In Mandi Bahauddin, police booked PML-N district president Mushahid Raza, UC chairman Zulqurnain Zaman and 170 others under the same sections.
In Phalia, Bhagat police raided the residence of PPP district president and ex MPA Asif Basheer Bhagat and arrested his two servants.
In Wazirabad, police booked Punjab PPP vice-president and former MPA Ijaz Ahmed Samman for breaching the government’s Covid-19 SOPs.
In Gujrat, police seized the chairs placed at the venues of two different workers conventions being hosted by PML N leaders Haji Aurangzaib Butt and ex MPA Haji Nasir Mehmood. Senior party leaders Awais Leghari and Attaullah Tarrar were due to address these conventions.
In Sialkot district, groups of PML-N workers were arrested in in different police raids. The PML-N Daska office on Nisbat Road was also sealed.
The disproportionate amount of arrests of opposition workers made in the days preceding the Gujranwala rally has sparked controversy and invited the ire of opposition party leader. Nawaz
Speaking to media channels, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said: “No matter what Imran Khan and his rented spokesperson say or do, the Gujranwala public meeting will be a resounding success.” She further commented on the ingenuity of the arrests made on the pretext of violation of COVID-19 SOPs, asking: “Where were these protocols when PTI’s empty chairs public meeting was held in Liaquat Bagh?
Meanwhile, the PDM has been granted formal permission to carry out its protest rally in Gujranwala’s Jinnah stadium after a 28-point agreement made with the Gujranwala District Administration. The agreement involves the strict implementation of COVID-19 SOPs, including seating arrangements with 3-6 feet distance between participants, as well as measures such as the instalment of walk-through gates with sanitisers.
PDM also agreed to not extend the rally beyond its assigned venue, and to not create any “welcoming camps” on GT road. Party banners would also be installed after permission from relevant authorities. Additionally, the PDM representatives guaranteed that no speech would target any national security institutions or make statements in conflict with the Constitution. Violation of these agreements would lead to necessary action against PDM leaders.
Following the first PDM rally on Gujranwala on 16th October, other rallies this month are scheduled in Karachi and Quetta on 18th and 25th October, respectively. Four other rallies are scheduled for later this year.