Imran Khan calls off rally after interim govt refuses to remove Section 144 in Lahore


Lahore, MAR 12: In a surprise move, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairperson Imran Khan on Sunday postponed his election rally in Lahore after the interim government refused to take back the Section 144 imposed in the provincial capital.

Taking to Twitter, the PTI chief claimed that the Section 144 was imposed “illegally solely on PTI election campaign” despite other public activities ongoing in Lahore.

“Only Zaman Park has been surrounded by containers & heavy police contingent. Clearly, like 8 March, Punjab CM & police want to provoke clashes to file more sham FIRs against PTI leadership and workers and to use as pretext for postponing elections,” said the former prime minister.

The PTI chief questioned how Section 144 can be imposed in the provincial capital despite the announcement of the election schedule.

“I AM TELLING ALL PTI WORKERS NOT TO FALL INTO THIS TRAP. Hence we have postponed rally till tomorrow,” said the PTI chief.

Later, in a press conference, PTI leader Hammad Azhar confirmed the postponement of the rally and said that it might be “staged tomorrow or at a later date”.

“We want peaceful elections and peaceful transfer of power and it is possible that the rally might be held tomorrow,” said Azhar, adding that the authorities should open the roads.

PTI approaches ECP against Section 144
The decision came after PTI challenged the Section 144 imposed by the Punjab government in Lahore in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

PTI leader Babar Awan filed the plea in the ECP on the instructions of party Chairman Imran Khan.

The Punjab government Saturday night again announced imposing Section 144 (banning of large gatherings) in Lahore to avoid any “untoward incidents”.

This is the second time in less than a week that the interim government has imposed the restriction ahead of the election rally of the party — which has severely criticised the caretaker set-up for being “partial”.

“The ECP should dispose of the implementation of Section 144 as it is illegal,” said the petition.

It said that by imposing Section 144, the Punjab government is violating Para 15 of the Supreme Court’s order. The petition also stated that the routes of the rally and the Pakistan Super League (PSL) match are different.

“The PTI’s rally will conclude at 5:30pm while the PSL will begin at 7pm,” it said, adding that Section 144 has never been imposed in any city amid PSL matches.

The election campaign is PTI’s constitutional right and the provincial government is stopping the campaign illegally, said the petition.

Awan, while speaking to the media persons later, reiterated that the timings and routes of the match and rally are different.

Advocate Babar Awan speaking to media persons ahead of the PTI election rally in Lahore. — Screengrab/
Advocate Babar Awan speaking to media persons ahead of the PTI election rally in Lahore. — Screengrab/
“Imposing Section 144 on the entire city is not justifiable and the interim government decided to put a ban using PSL as an excuse,” he said.

He added that Khan wants to stage a rally as it is the party’s constitutional right.

PTI leader Yasmin Rashid has also submitted a request against the provincial government’s decision to ban rallies in ECP’s office in Lahore.

Roads leading to Zaman Park blocked
Hours before the rally, the police started blocking the roads leading to Zaman Park. The road leading from Mall Road to Canal Road and Harbanspura to Zaman Park was closed.

Moreover, a heavy contingent of police has been deployed on various routes.

ECP summons meeting
Meanwhile, acknowledging that it had received the PTI’s applications, the ECP said that Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja has summoned a meeting for 10:30am tomorrow.

‘No ban on political activities’
On the other hand, interim Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Raza Naqvi said that there is no ban on political activities and parties are allowed to campaign freely.

However, he said that the government has restricted rallies and political activities for today due to PSL.

Punjab govt summon Rangers
The Punjab government, in its letter to the Ministry of Interior, had also asked the federal government to provide it with Rangers in the city to maintain the law and order.

The letter stated that the Rangers should be deployed with immediate effect till March 22.

Khan to lead rally himself

A day earlier, the former prime minister said he would lead the rally himself.

“I will lead the election rally to show them that we are not domesticated animals,” the former prime minister told his party workers during his address via video link.

Speaking to his party workers, Khan said that the “powerful” segments want to get the upcoming general elections in Punjab and KP cancelled at all costs.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan addresses workers and supporters via video link from Lahore, on March 11, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — YouTube/PTI
PTI Chairman Imran Khan addresses workers and supporters via video link from Lahore, on March 11, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — YouTube/PTI
“They would try to get the polls cancelled by assassinating him or bomb blasts […] I know that they will do something to stop the election,” the PTI chairman added.

The general elections in Punjab are scheduled to be held on April 30, while the date for the polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is yet to be announced as Governor Ghulam Ali has not decided.

During PTI’s rally on Wednesday, clashes broke out between party workers and the Punjab Police, leaving several wounded.

Meanwhile, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi instructed the party workers to reach Zaman Park despite the ban. “Imran Khan will lead the rally today as it was decided in the meeting,” he said.

Qureshi said that the date for the elections has been announced, hence, it is not justified to stop them from staging a rally.