As the day of the PTI's 'Azadi March' looms, police in Punjab conducted late-night raids on the homes of several party leaders, drawing condemnations from politicians and journalists alike.
In videos being circulated on social media, police officers could be seen purportedly raiding the houses of Punjab-based PTI leaders including Hammad Azhar, Usman Dar, Fayyazul Hasan Chohan, Malik Waqar Ahmed, Engineer Kashif Kharal, Mazhar Iqbal Gujjar and others.
PTI Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan, in a tweet early on Tuesday morning, called the "brutal" crackdown the "fascist nature of PML-N when in power". Peaceful protest was the right of the citizens, he said, adding that the crackdown raised serious questions about the "handlers".
"Already economy is in a tailspin. I want to warn the crooks and their handlers that these undemocratic and fascist steps will further exacerbate the economic situation and push the country into a state of anarchy," he cautioned.
The former premier recalled that during his tenure PPP, PML-N and JUI-F's anti-government marches were never stopped nor did the PTI government carry out any crackdown on their workers.
"This is the difference between democrats and kleptocrats," he added.
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry claimed that the Punjab police raided nearly 1,100 houses last night, while over 400 PTI leaders, both men and women, had been arrested.
Meanwhile, the party's general secretary, Asad Umar, said that the "attack" had increased the enthusiasm and passion of PTI workers, adding that the "imported government" could be seen trembling from fear.
PTI Punjab president Shafqat Mahmood also vowed that the crackdown would not "deter" them. "The Azadi March will take place as planned," he said, stressing that such actions would not "stop patriotic Pakistanis from fighting for what they believe in".
On the other hand, PTI Senator Faisal Javed requested the courts to take notice of the "illegal crackdown".
PPP MNA Nafisa Shah said that roughing up families and encroaching privacy or homes was a "hardly a democratic approach to protest."
She suggested that the best way for the government to negotiate was to allow a "localised protest", adding that the PTI march had now been reduced to a "sit-in" in Islamabad.
In a video message, former Sindh governor Imran Ismail claimed that PTI workers in Karachi were "harassed" and taken into custody as well.
From the media fraternity, journalist Mazhar Abbas tweeted, "What is government up to? Raid for the arrest of PTI leaders and activists may not go well for the present PML(N) government and its coalition partners."
Journalist Anas Mallick said that the overnight raids on PTI leaders would benefit the party, warning that the government would be the one "under radar by all means" through such acts.
Columnist Huma Yusuf posted a video of retired Justice Nasira Iqbal, mother of PTI senator Walid Iqbal, who was woken up at 2am after the Punjab police "roughed up the night staff and left".
Terming the incident unacceptable, she said that "witch-hunts have no place in democracies".
"These illegal arrests of senior PTI members will only lead to making PTI more popular and stronger. Again, wrong act and will backfire strongly in elections. Surprised that PPP is still silent. I expected better," tweeted Ambreen Qureshi, chairperson of the National Women Lawyers Society.
Barrister Asad Rahim Khan, meanwhile, noted that raiding Hammad Azhar's house without a single charge two days after former human rights minister Shireen Mazari's arrest showed the "lawless, countrywide sweep against innocent political opponents".
"The sheer stupidity of the state's actions these past two days is pushing everything towards chaos. The immediate need — in the middle of an economic tailspin — is to bring the temperature down," he added.
Activist Ammar Ali Jan said "pre-emptive arrests are a shameful part of our colonial legacy that is being used by the current government to suppress PTI".
He added that protest should be allowed in the ambit of law and those who violated the law should be brought to justice.
Lawyer and activist Jibran Nasir shared the video of Iqbal recounting her ordeal and said: "Imagine what ordinary Pakistanis go through at hands of law enforcement agencies".
He said that PML-N was adopting the "same tyrannical ways" it had accused the PTI of. "Both did so with [the] respective backing of [the] establishment whose political interference continues to be our real problem," he said.