Pakistan Court Clears Way for Imran Khan to Hold Anti-Government Protest

Supporters of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan chant anti-government slogans outside Khan's residence in Islamabad, Pakistan, REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

ISLAMABAD, Oct 31  – A Pakistani court on Monday gave permission to opposition politician Imran Khan to hold anti-government protests in the capital this week, but warned that demonstrations should not disrupt life for citizens, media reported.

Khan has threatened to “shut down” the capital Islamabad on Wednesday as part of his push to unseat Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on grounds of alleged corruption linked to the “Panama Papers” leak.

On Sunday, however, he said his rallying cry to stop the government from functioning was not a direct threat, but rather a prediction of what would happen if his supporters flooded into the city.

On Monday, the Islamabad High Court dismissed government challenges to the protests, but ordered Khan to hold the demonstration on a parade ground far from the city’s main government and commercial districts, Geo Television reported.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui also ordered the government to ensure protection for the fundamental rights of residents of the capital to go about their daily lives, Geo reported.

The political tension has led to periodic clashes between supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and the police, who have arrested scores of opposition workers and used tear gas to disperse protesters defying a citywide ban on public gatherings.

On Monday, party lawmaker Arif Alvi and another senior party official, Imran Ismail, were briefly detained and bundled into a police van near Khan’s home.

On social network Twitter Ismail said he had been “arrested brutally”, and posted a selfie picture of the two men smiling on the way to a police station. However, the Interior Ministry, swiftly ordered their release.

In preparation for the protests, police have blocked off key roads to Islamabad from the city of Peshawar in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, from which PTI draws most of its support.

Last week, the government outlawed gatherings of more than five people in the capital and the neighbouring city of Rawalpindi. Scores of Khan’s partyworkers have been arrested since, the party says.

Khan, a former national cricketing hero, has vowed not to back down unless Sharif resigns, or submits to investigation regarding the “Panama Papers” leaks.

Documents from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm in April appear to show that Sharif’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. Sharif’s family denies wrongdoing.

Holding offshore companies is not illegal in Pakistan, but Khan has implied the money was gained by corruption. Khan admitted in May that he himself used an offshore company to legally avoid paying British tax on a London property sale.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court is set to take up a case regarding the allegations on Tuesday.

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