Punjab police arrest 540 more PTI leaders, workers under ATA

The Punjab police on Friday arrested 540 more leaders and workers of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). The arrests were made in connection with the recent protests and violence that erupted in the province following the ouster of PTI chairman Imran Khan as prime minister.

The PTI leaders and workers are accused of attacking public and private properties, law enforcement agencies, and their vehicles. They are also accused of vandalizing the PTI’s office at Jail Road in Lahore.

The arrests were made possible through the use of CCTV cameras, video recordings from mobile phones and private cameras, and social media posts. So far, 205 cases have been lodged against PTI leaders and workers since May 9.

On Thursday night, a brief scuffle broke out between the police and PTI workers. The police stormed the PTI’s office at Jail Road in Lahore to arrest the workers nominated in the cases registered by various police stations. The PTI workers pelted the police with stones, but they fled when more police force was called for support.

On Friday evening, the police deployment was increased around the residence of the PTI Chairman Imran Khan at Zaman Park following reports that PTI workers were gathering there in large numbers to welcome him after court relief.

Tension mounted in Faisalabad when the lawyers’ community condemned the police raid at the office of the district bar for the arrest of former provincial minister Ali Afzal Sahi. The lawyers warned of strong agitation and reaction and demanded action against the police.

To defuse tension, the Punjab government made the Faisalabad SSP Operations officer on special duty, who was leading the police raid.

In a statement issued on Friday, Punjab police chief Dr. Usman Anwar said that criminals involved in attacks on sensitive installations, public and private properties, and police teams did not deserve any sympathy. “These miscreants are being identified and traced through CCTV footage, video recordings, and social media posts.”

After Friday’s arrests, the number of detained leaders and supporters had risen to 2,790, the Punjab police said.

Dr. Anwar said that more than 152 police officers and officials had been injured in the attacks by violent Punjab protesters. Of them, he said, 63 officers and personnel were from the provincial capital Lahore, 26 from Faisalabad, 13 from Gujranwala, 29 from Rawalpindi, 10 from Attock, six from Mianwali, and five from Sialkot.

Apart from this, 72 vehicles used by Punjab police and eight privately owned vehicles were damaged and torched, the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the PTI has strongly condemned the arrest of party leaders and the police raid on the party’s Jail Road office in Lahore. It said police smashed office fixtures, electronic gadgets and burnt party records. “The Punjab police is committing state terrorism in its worst shape,” a PTI spokesman alleged.

The spokesman also alleged that police stole money from a safe lying in the party office.

The arrests have drawn widespread criticism from human rights groups and the opposition. They say that the arrests are politically motivated and that the PTI leaders and workers are being targeted for their political affiliation.

The government has defended the arrests, saying that they are necessary to maintain law and order. It has also said that the PTI leaders and workers will be given a fair trial.