WASHINGTON: The United States said on Monday that the people in Pakistan have the right to express themselves, but they should do so without participating in violence.

At an afternoon news briefing, US State Depart­ment spokesperson Ved­a­nt Patel also refused to comment on former prime minister Imran Khan’s arrest last week but did say that laws of the land should be respected while making any arrests.

At Monday’s briefing, the spokesperson was asked specifically about the violence that followed the former prime minister’s arrest from a court in Islamabad.

“First and foremost, our belief is that individuals should have the freedom to express themselves, but do so without participating in any violence, violence that would put government employees and government buildings in harm’s way,” Mr Patel responded.

But when asked for comments on Mr Khan’s arrest, the spokesperson said the US did “not have a position on one political party or one candidate or other”.

“Our view is, a strong, stable, and prosperous Pakistan is crucial to US-Pakistan relations. And that for any arrests that such a candidate is (granted) basic human rights in accordance with their laws,” he added.

Mr Patel was equally careful when asked to comment on Imran Khan’s statement that journalists in Pakistan were not allowed to tell the other side of the story. “I am just not going to be prospective about the current situation. I don’t have an assessment to offer from here,” he said.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antó­nio Guterres also took note of the protests that followed Mr Khan’s arrest and called for all parties to refrain from violence.

He urged Pakistani authorities to respect due process and the rule of law in proceedings brought against the former prime minister and stressed the need to respect the right to peaceful assembly.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2023

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