Fawad’s arrest

Published January 26, 2023

Just what has been gained by the government from the arrest of Fawad Chaudhry, one of the PTI’s most visible leaders, is anybody’s guess. All it seems to have accomplished is turned him into an instant hero for PTI’s support base.

The ugliness that played out all day yesterday on national television has also provided a fillip to the PTI’s narrative about being persecuted by the government at the centre, as well as the newly installed caretaker regime in Punjab. The Election Commission, too, has walked itself right back into the thick of controversy when it should have been focusing on preparing for elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.

The case against Mr Chaudhry, lodged by the ECP secretary, accuses him of “threatening” the electoral body’s members and its families. The charges registered in the FIR include criminal intimidation, making a statement conducing to mischief, promoting enmity between groups, and sedition.

Of particular concern is the latter charge — that Mr Chaudhry has committed sedition with his words. It was unclear at the time these lines were being written what Mr Chaudhry may have said to have justified the charge. The PTI leadership’s opposition to the current ECP set-up, particularly the chief election commissioner, is well-known. They have been quite unreserved in their criticism of the electoral watchdog’s senior officers for many months now.

To arrest Mr Chaudhry in the manner in which he was and then charge him with sedition, of all things, seems to be a gross overreaction. If this is how those in power believe stability is to be attained while the country’s social fabric frays under the weight of the many crises it faces, they are gravely mistaken.

The country has already reached a point of despair so deep that many are publicly advocating packing up and leaving the country. Does the state really need to fan public discontent in a period as fraught with uncertainty as this?

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2023

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