Watch: Arbitrary mass arrests of thousands of Pakistanis

Human Rights Watch said that Pakistani police carried out mass arrests and detained more than 4,000 people in the wake of protests over the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, including members of the political opposition.

According to the organization, the Pakistani police arbitrarily arrested many opposition political leaders and ordinary people participating in the demonstration, and charged everyone with “participation in acts of violence.”

The organization said many were charged under vague and overbroad laws prohibiting riots and threats to public order.

The organization called on the Pakistani authorities to release all those detained for peacefully protesting or supporting political opposition, and to respect the due process rights of all detainees.

“The Pakistani authorities should end their arbitrary arrests of political opposition activists and peaceful protesters,” said Patricia Gusman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone who commits acts of violence must be charged appropriately and their rights to due process respected.”

Violence swept Pakistan after the police arrested former Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 9, 2023 on corruption charges.

Some of Khan’s supporters threw stones and Molotov cocktails, and in a few cases used assault rifles to attack police, setting ambulances, police vehicles and schools on fire. The police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets and attacked the demonstrators with batons.

In the following days, the police arrested hundreds of members of Khan’s political party, Insaf, on charges of rioting and assault. On the 12th of this month, Khan was released on bail.

A tense standoff between police and Ansar Khan continued in the city of Lahore, raising fears of further violence.

The organization warned that the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials stipulate that security forces must use the minimum necessary force at all times, and that in dispersing violent assemblies, firearms may only be used when they are used. less harmful means, and that law enforcement officers may not deliberately use lethal force except when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.

“The authorities must show restraint and respect human rights and the rule of law,” said Gusman. She stressed that “basic guarantees of peaceful protest and legal process must not become victims of political conflict in Pakistan.”

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