Protests continue in Pakistan following the arrest of former Prime Minister and current chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, Imran Khan. On Friday, PTI workers and supporters gathered on Srinagar Highway near G-13 in Islamabad, where Khan was expected to address them after an Islamabad High Court (IHC) hearing. However, clashes soon erupted between the protestors and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) police, who resorted to tear gas shelling to disperse the crowds as protestors threw stones at them.
Social media users shared videos of tear gas shelling and a heavy police presence on the main road that passes through the federal capital. Reports also emerged of a vehicle being set on fire on Srinagar Highway by the demonstrators. This marks the fourth consecutive day of protests by PTI supporters following Khan’s arrest in the Al-Qadir Trust case, which the Supreme Court had deemed illegal a day earlier, ordering him to approach the IHC for bail in the case. The IHC has now granted the former premier two-week interim bail.
Ahead of the crucial hearing, PTI leader Hammad Azhar released a short video on Twitter, urging the party’s supporters to reach Islamabad and “safeguard themselves from illegal arrests.” Another PTI leader, Shehryar Khan Afridi, warned that “if something happens to Imran Khan, then we will destroy ourselves but will not let you people live” in a statement being shared on social media. However, he also urged the government “not to take decisions that will render the situation out of control,” insisting that they are peaceful.
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Many of the PTI’s senior leaders remain in police custody amid an ongoing crackdown, and several other protestors have been rounded up for rioting. The situation remains tense, with the internet blacked out, causing significant economic losses estimated at $53 million per day. As Pakistan faces simultaneous political and economic crises, the government now faces the prospect of an increasingly galvanized electorate ahead of elections due no later than October.