LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Sunday planned peaceful protest demonstrations against “massive rigging post-polling” across major cities but canceled hours before the scheduled time, fearing ‘a false flag operation.’ Still, protests were held in several cities across the province, including Lahore, and police arrested dozens of PTI supporters who reached the protest venues.

PTI central Punjab general secretary Hammad Azhar on late Saturday evening announced peaceful protest demonstrations and urged residents to gather at Liberty Chowk at 2pm to protect the mandate given by the people through their ballot. Asking for protests in Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Gujrat, and Rawalpindi, he announced that he would also lead a protest from a city in Punjab, without disclosing the name of the city. He also urged PTI leaders hiding in the fascist rule of the caretaker government to come out and protest against the stolen mandate. However, he did not show up at any protest.

The PTI, from its official X handle, tweeted around mid-day that there were fears of a False Flag Operation–2 and stressed that the protesters should stay alert. In its tweet, the PTI claimed that some trucks and other vehicles with Sargodha district number plates had been spotted getting fuel from a petrol pump in Lahore Cantt, where the PTI flag has been banned for the past nine months but installed on those vehicles. The PTI stated, “These vehicles may drop some unknown people in the rallies and protests to unleash torture and violent activities.” The party called its workers to spot persons trying to incite violence and send them away. “We will take our mandate back in a peaceful manner,” the PTI asserted.

The PTI later posted videos of party workers’ protests held in different cities in the province, including Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Samundri, Sialkot, Rahim Yar Khan, Jhelum, and Rawalpindi.

Demonstrations erupt despite cancellation, leading to arrests

In Lahore, a heavy contingent of police was deployed at Liberty Chowk as well as at the incarcerated Imran Khan’s residence in Zaman Park, fearing that some protesters could also use this venue to stage protest demonstrations. It is learned that the Gulberg police arrested over a dozen protesters on charges of protesting outside the RPO office and Liberty Chowk. The police also arrested PTI-backed NA-119 candidate Shahzad Farooq and his aides for peacefully protesting against rigging. Mr Farooq had contested against PML-N chief organizer Maryam Nawaz.

As Mr Azhar continued tweeting to instruct party workers and supporters, he urged all PTI supporters to remain calm and peaceful because the authorities wanted to create scenes of clashes and violence. “But we are a peaceful party committed to the rule of law and the democratic process. Back off if they provoke you. Do not clash with them. Capture the footage,” he stressed.

PTI leader Moonis Elahi also claimed that the current caretaker government had hatched a conspiracy against PTI’s peaceful protest call. He claimed that some violent protests would be staged and then the police would book PTI leaders and workers. “I request all PTI workers to stay calm and peaceful and keep an eye on the facilitators trying to implement the cheap conspiracy,” he stated. Mr Azhar stated that he would be proposing to the PTI’s Core Committee to move a petition in international courts against interference in the democratic process, subversion of the constitution, and crimes against humanity committed in Pakistan. “Time for our judiciary to wake up and stand for democracy and constitution,” he added. Endorsing Hammad’s plan, Moonis stressed that the party’s core committee meeting should urgently be called and decide to approach the international courts.

Meanwhile, PTI leader Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed tweeted that there were reports that the police had started picking up PTI polling agents for PP-169 and NA-128. He instructed the polling agents to go into hiding.

On the ground in Lahore, the police cordoned off Liberty Chowk and stopped every passerby’s vehicle carrying PTI flags. Footage on social media suggested that the police stopped a car with a family on board displaying a PTI flag and arrested the family head in front of his wife and kids.

Another footage showed a motorcyclist carrying his three minors being stopped by the police because the kids were holding a PTI flag. “What kind of law allows police to stop all the people carrying the PTI flag? This is not what the people expect the police to do, neither what the oath of officers allows!” the PTI has asked.

Reacting to the deployment of police at Liberty Chowk on his call for a protest at 2pm, Mr Azhar sarcastically tweeted: “Since I am now in a position to deploy heavy police contingents by just tweeting peaceful protest venues, I will use this power for the public good. From tomorrow, I will be ordering deployment in areas with the highest crime incidents. Starting with IG Punjab’s office.”

Mr Hammad also posted a screenshot of a Presiding Officer’s signed statement, where the presiding officer confirmed record tempering at the RO office of PP-172. PTI-backed NA-128 candidate Salman Akram Raja made a series of tweets explaining the highhandedness of police and ECP staff and regretted that people of his constituency, like other dozens of constituencies, had been robbed. “We shall resist,” he stated.

Mr Raja stated that he and his election agents were forcibly evicted by the police at the behest of the RO from the premises where the consolidation of results, received from 433 polling stations, was being carried out. “This is a blatant violation of the law,” he added. Later through the night, he said, the RO generated fake results and a fake count was announced at 1 pm on Feb 9, showing he got 159,024 votes while his opponent was miraculously shown at 172,000 votes.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024

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