‘Jail Bharo’: PTI senior leadership forces itself into prison van in Lahore as court arrest drive commences
PTI leaders presented themselves for arrest on Wednesday as the party’s ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ (court arrest drive) commenced from Lahore, which according to ex-premier Imran Khan is aimed at countering the “attack” on the party’s fundamental rights and the economic “meltdown”.
The PTI shared footage of party leaders, including Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umar and Senator Azam Swati, sitting inside a police van. The party also claimed that those responsible for making the arrests had “vanished”.
A Dawn.com correspondent was able to verify that the PTI leaders had forced themselves into the prison van. There were no reports of arrests so far by the police.
In a video shared on Twitter, Qureshi — speaking from inside the police van — said that it was a matter of great pride that he was the first to give himself up for arrest as promised earlier.
“This movement will continue until the imported government puts an end to the lawlessness in the country” and is held accountable for the last 10 months in the people’s court, he said.
Meanwhile, PTI Vice President Fawad Chaudhry said that numerous party leaders and workers, including Qureshi, Umar, Ejaz Chaudhry, had given themselves up for arrest.
“Around 500-700 PTI workers have given themselves up for arrest,” he said in a video message. Chaudhry claimed that the police had arrived prepared with police vans but were “worried after seeing the thousands of people and contemplating what they should do”.
He thanked PTI workers for their response and said the movement would move forward, adding that today’s protest would be limited to Lahore and would continue till the evening before moving to Peshawar tomorrow (Thursday).
In a video message later in the day, PTI chief Imran said the ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ was initiated to “break the shackles of fear” and lauded the party’s leadership for “leading from the front”.
“We had prepared [for] 200 people but thousands were ready to go to jail. I’m getting calls from Peshawar and Rawalpindi that thousands of people are ready to go to jail.”
Imran thanked the people of Lahore for their participation. At the same time, he called on the nation to prepare, saying that if the Punjab and KP elections were delayed beyond 90 days then the “whole nation will have to come out [in protest]”.
‘Peaceful protest against attack on our fundamental rights’
In a series of tweets before the campaign commenced, Imran said: “Today we start our Jail Bharo campaign for Haqeeqi Azadi for two main reasons.
“One, it is a peaceful, non-violent protest against the attack on our constitutionally-guaranteed fundamental rights. We are facing sham FIRs and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases, custodial torture, attacks on journalists and social media people.”
Second, Imran went on, the drive was against economic meltdown “brought on by cabal of crooks who have money laundered billions in looted wealth and gotten NROs for themselves while crushing the people, especially the poor and middle class, under the burden of spiralling inflation and rising unemployment”.
PTI’s official Twitter account tweeted pictures and videos of party leaders including Asad Umar and Azam Swati converging at Lahore’s Charing Cross as the movement commenced from the Punjab capital.
Separately, in a video message shared on PTI’s official Twitter account, the ex-premier urged people to take to the streets for “true freedom”.
“Actually, this campaign will take you to a free and happy Pakistan. And this will only happen when the state protects your fundamental rights,” he said, adding that the ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ “is the name of jihad”.
Imran also said that the more people participated in the drive, the faster Pakistan would achieve “true freedom”.
Qureshi wants to ‘set tradition’
In a talk with reporters in Lahore earlier in the day, Qureshi had said Imran had told him to not turn himself in for arrest as he was the “number two leader” after the party chief but he had decided to “set a tradition” of party leaders giving arrest first instead of the workers.
He also mentioned the alleged campaign being run by the PML-N against the judiciary while detailing the reason for the party’s movement.
“The attack that the PML-N leadership has carried out on the judiciary is unprecedented.
“It is my humble request to the legal fraternity, bar rooms [and] bar councils that they should not remain quiet and should play their roles [as] a responsibility applies to them.
“An institution is being threatened and obstacles are being created in their paths. Respected judges are being insulted. All this is not appropriate.”
‘All arrangements complete’
PTI Senator Ejaz Chaudhry, who is the focal person of the ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’, said all arrangements for the “court arrest drive” were complete.
“Our senior leaders will surrender along with 200 party workers,” Chaudhry said in a statement today.
He was of the view that the movement was “a way to achieve true freedom”.
The PTI leader claimed that a large number of people were enrolling themselves with the party to take part in the drive. “The nation is eager to get rid of imported rulers.”
Hundreds aim for jail
Earlier, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said that the party and its top brass were ready for the court arrest movement. “Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar insisted that they would present themselves for arrest on the first day of the movement.”
According to ARY News, the opening day of the movement would start with a meeting to honour party members. After the meeting, the party supporters would march towards The Mall — where Section 144 is imposed — via Jail Road to give themselves up for arrests. In case, the government refused to detain the PTI activists, the rally will morph into a sit-in at Charing Cross in front of the Punjab Assembly.
After Lahore, Peshawar will witness the launch of the court arrest drive on Feb 23. Rawalpindi will follow on Feb 24, Multan on Feb 25, Gujranwala on Feb 26, Sargodha on Feb 27, and Sahiwal on Feb 28. Faisalabad will join the movement on the first day of March.
Senator Chaudhry has said the party had sought 200 volunteers for the first day of the drive but more than 2,000 have signed up for the drive. He said those party leaders, who would contest the upcoming by-polls on the PTI platform, would not become part of the drive.
Section 144 imposed in Lahore
Meanwhile, the Punjab government has imposed Section 144 on The Mall, Gulberg Main Boulevard as well as outside the Punjab Civil Secretariat and its adjoining roads to prohibit all kinds of assemblies, sit-ins and processions.
Earlier, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that the PTI’s arrest drive was aimed at creating political instability and a law and order situation in the country. The PTI is seeking media attention by creating a drama through the ‘court arrest drive’, APP quoted him as saying.
The meeting decided that the miscreants would be arrested and the law and order would be ensured in the country at all costs.
“The arrest of women and poor workers would be avoided,” the participants agreed. The minister said the record of miscreants would be maintained and their activities would be mentioned in their character certificates issued by the police.
‘Jail Bacho Tehreek’ to create political instability
Additionally, Information and Broadcasting Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb lambasted Imran for “putting on a show” to create political instability in the country while demanding that the economy improves.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad today, she said, “On the one hand, you put on this show of political instability and on the other, you ask that the country’s economy is put right?”
Aurangzeb said, “The spectacle [being put on] today is that the court, FIA, NAB, institutions are calling you [but] what are you doing? ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ that is starting from the leader’s bail.
“Movements starting from bail are ‘Jail Bacho Tehreek’ [evade the jail movement],” the minister remarked.
“What is the aim of this ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’? […] Because you do not have answers for Toshakhana, foreign funding, 190 million, three to five karats, international conspiracy [and] Al-Qadir Trust, you have started this ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ film?”
Aurangzeb claimed the PTI was staging this “show” because the “country’s economy is being put right and […] the government is mending its foreign relations”.
“The announcement made today by the Chinese bank of 700m dollars; is this why ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ is being held?”
If it were up to me, there would be no arrests: Khawaja Saad
On Wednesday, PML-N leader and Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique said that if it were up to him, he would not arrest even a single PTI supporter.
“I never support political workers going to jail but if someone is pressing on it, then morally the leader should be the first one to surrender,” he told media persons in Lahore.
Saad said that party supremo Nawaz Sharif spent a long time behind bars during the dictatorship of retired General Pervez Musharraf. “And even in this unannounced martial law this time, Nawaz and his family spent time in jail.”
However, he contended that Imran was himself seeking bail but was encouraging his supporters to go to jail.
“This is the prerogative of the provincial government on the treatment [of the protesters], but if it were up to me […] the police wouldn’t be there when people turned up for arrests.
“They would have then just roamed around and gone home eventually,” he added.
The PML-N leader further said that Imran had faced nothing compared to what Nawaz and his family went through.
“We have been behind bars for months … have you ever seen anyone cry? On the other hand, they start crying within days […] they haven’t even faced a tenth of what we went through […] we don’t want them to face what we did, but does he [Imran] even have an ounce of shame in him?”