Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for “freedom” protests nationwide after his dramatic arrest on Tuesday triggered deadly protests across the South Asian nation.
“Freedom does not come easily. You have to snatch it. You have to sacrifice for it,” the 70-year-old leader said in a speech broadcast on YouTube on Saturday night a day after he was released after the intervention of the Supreme Court.
He called for supporters to hold protests “at the end of your streets and villages” across the country on Sunday evening for one hour starting at 5:30pm (12:30 GMT).
Khan, who has been slapped with a slew of cases since he was removed from power last April, was freed on bail on Friday after his detention in a corruption case was declared unlawful by the top court. Several top leaders of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party still remain under arrest.
Khan’s arrest, which his supporters called a “kidnapping”, shocked the nation, triggering street protests. Calling for his release, supporters blocked roads and damaged property belonging to the military, who they blame for Khan’s removal.
Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party activists and supporters gather outside Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s residence to listen his speech, in Zaman Park in Lahore on May 13, 2023
PTI members and supporters gather outside former Prime Minister Khan’s residence to listen to his speech, in Zaman Park in Lahore [Arif Ali/AFP]
Sunday morning was quiet after several days of violence and political chaos. Khan has remained steadfast in his demand for immediate elections. He has emerged as the country’s most popular leader and has held numerous rallies since his removal to call for national elections.
Khan survived an assassination attempt last year during one of his large rallies for which he has blamed the country’s powerful army.
“The army chief’s actions have made our military bad. It is because of him, not because of me,” Khan said from his home in Lahore. On Friday, he told reporters that “one man, the army chief” was behind his arrest.
Pakistan’s military has staged three coups since the country was founded in 1947. It has directly ruled over the country for more than three decades and enjoys massive influence in domestic politics.
The military has historically intervened, citing economic or political instability in the country. However, despite widespread fears about another intervention during months of tumult, the military said it stood by the democratic process.
“The army’s senior leadership, the chief of army staff, places its complete trust in democracy. There is no question of martial law,” chief military spokesman Major-General Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry told Geo News channel on Saturday.