The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Monday took “strong exception” to caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar’s remarks that “fair elections” were possible even without PTI Chairman Imran Khan and other jailed party workers.

Imran, who was originally jailed for “corrupt practices” in the Toshakhana case — although his conviction has since been suspended — is currently on judicial remand in the cipher case.

In an interview with The Associated Press over the weekend, the prime minister had said that “fair” polls were possible without Imran and his party leaders, who were jailed as part of a state crackdown in the aftermath of violent riots across the country on May 9.

PM Kakar had also stated that thousands of PTI members, who were not a part of “unlawful activities”, “will be running the political process” and “participating in the elections”.

The interim prime minister’s statement came days after the Election Commission of Pakistan finally announced that polls in the country would be held in January next year. Subsequently, major political parties in the country began preparations for elections.

During the interview, the prime minister had also dismissed the possibility of the military establishment manipulating the election results to ensure the PTI doesn’t win as “absolutely absurd”.

In a statement issued today, the HRCP reminded the prime minister that courts were yet to establish guilt in the cases against Imran and his party leaders. “Mr Kakar’s claims are anti-democratic and ill-judged,” it stated.

“The prime minister should be aware that it is not for him or his government to decide unilaterally what constitutes a ‘fair’ election,” the commission highlighted.

It noted that the “systematic way in which the PTI leadership has been dismantled — in the shape of mass arrests and rearrests — forced disassociation from the party, the disproportionate number of cases filed against political leaders and workers (including in military courts), and curbs on their freedom of expression and assembly — has not produced a level playing field”.

The HRCP said this was a cause for concern because it perpetuated a “pattern of pre-election manipulation that was also visible in 2018”.

The commission also condemned the treatment meted out to former chief minister and PTI president Parvez Elahi, who has been arrested and rearrested a number of times against the directives of the high court.

“HRCP reminds the government that responsibility for ensuring free and fair elections falls on the Election Commission of Pakistan.

“The caretaker government must desist from making irresponsible, partisan statements on matters not within its mandate. Instead, it must ensure that an environment conducive to free, fair, credible and inclusive elections is created and maintained,” it added.

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