The PTI said on Wednesday that one of its workers was killed in Lahore as police launched a crackdown on those participating in the party’s rally following the imposition of Section 144.
The party, which had decided to kick off its election campaign today, had planned to take out a rally from Zaman Park to Data Darbar. PTI Chairman Imran Khan and other leaders were also expected to be in attendance.
However, the party later decided to dedicate the demonstration to the judiciary and postponed the launch of its canvassing drive until Saturday.
Prior to the start of the rally, the Punjab Home Department had asked PTI leaders to take “extra precaution”, saying that such public gatherings in the face of security threats were “not advisable”.
Shortly after, the government had proceeded to impose Section 144 in Lahore. Officials had also taken scores of PTI workers into custody for violating the ban and used water cannons in an effort to disperse them which had led the PTI chairman to call off the rally.
In a tweet after calling off the rally, Imran said that party worker Ali Bilal was “murdered by Punjab police”.
This image shared by the PTI shows party worker Ali Bilal.
“Shameful, this brutality on unarmed PTI workers who were coming to attend an election rally. Pakistan is in the grip of murderous criminals,” he said, adding that the party would file cases against the Punjab inspector general, the Lahore capital city police officer (CCPO) and others for “murder”.
In a second tweet, Imran shared a video of Bilal, adding that it showed that the PTI worker was alive while being transported to the police station.
“So he was killed while in police custody — such is the murderous bent of the present regime and the Punjab police,” he said.
Imran later said he wanted the party’s district presidents and officeholders across the country to offer funeral prayers in absentia for “our martyred worker”.
When asked to comment on the incident, the Lahore CCPO’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Syed Mubashir had initially said he had “no idea”.
Later, he told Dawn.com that as per the available information, “this is an accident”.
Meanwhile, PTI Secretary General Asad Umar vowed that Bilal’s killer would be “brought to justice one day”. “The use of force has now reached such a level that the sons of the nation are being martyred,” he tweeted.
Awami Muslim League leader and PTI ally Sheikh Rashid also strongly condemned the alleged murder. “The PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) and Punjab caretaker government have crossed all limits of fascism and cruelty,” he said.
Imran calls off Lahore rally
PTI chief Imran had called off today’s rally after police had launched a crackdown on party workers.
“Stop everything. We are not taking out the rally that we were supposed to as, I am saddened to say, that all the moves they (the government) are making are aimed at running away from elections.
“They are trying to ensure that chaos spreads and that is why I’m saying to my workers to finish it, we will not carry out the rally,” he said in a video address.
Imran alleged that the government had launched a crackdown on PTI workers not for the sake of law and order but in an effort to avoid conducting elections in the province.
“We cannot give them (government) any excuse [to delay the elections],” the PTI chief, again calling on party workers to return to their homes.
“They picked up and took away our people today as well — around 100 workers — for what reason?” he asked.
Shortly after Section 144 was imposed in the city, a Dawn correspondent present at the scene said scores of PTI workers were taken into police custody on Mall Road for violating the ban. He further said that all roads leading to PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence had been cordoned off.
The correspondent also said that water cannons were used in an effort to dispel PTI workers while police officials also smashed the windows of their cars.
The party’s official Twitter account also shared footage of the same.
Sharing another video, it said their “peaceful workers” were being arrested.
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry shared a video of a water cannon being used to dispel PTI rally participants.
At the time, the PTI chairman had stated that his party had launched its election campaign with hardly 55 days left for elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Under what law and in brazen contempt of the Supreme Court, the Punjab caretaker government uses massive police violence against unarmed workers to stop our planned rally?” he asked.
“The only job of caretakers is to ensure fair and free elections. What they are doing is an assault on rule of law, our Constitution and democracy. Above all, once the Supreme Court ruling is defied, it is now law of the jungle,” he said.
PTI’s Shireen Mazari said Lahore seemed to be “under covert martial law” with roads blocked, rallies — including the party’s — blocked access and unarmed workers arrested, and sound systems taken away.
In an apparent reference to the Punjab caretaker chief minister, she said: “Crook Naqvi indulging in all fascist tactics.”