Islamabad, Pakistan – A top official in former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party has promised to stand with the party a day after he was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore.
“My message to all PTI workers is that you are on the right side. You are standing for Pakistan. Stay strong. You must not stand back,” Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, 77, said on Friday in a video message released by his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party as he was presented before a court in Lahore.
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“I am completely innocent, and I trust our judiciary,” the PTI president added.
Elahi, a two-time former chief minister of Punjab province, was arrested at his residence on Thursday evening over corruption charges after his protective bail was rejected by the Lahore court last week. The court on Friday ordered Elahi’s release, but soon after police re-arrested him on charges related to a separate corruption case.
Officials said Elahi is accused of embezzling millions of rupees in funds meant for the development of his hometown of Gujarat, about 125km (77 miles) north of Lahore in Punjab.
Elahi denies the charges. The PTI said the arrest was politically motivated and part of an ongoing government crackdown that has seen dozens of its leaders arrested and nearly 90 quitting the party.
PTI Chairman Khan, whose own arrest on May 9 triggered deadly protests by his supporters and the subsequent crackdown, condemned Elahi’s arrest and alleged the veteran politician was manhandled by the authorities.
“I strongly condemn the arrest of Ch Pervez Elahi on completely frivolous charges. The manner in which he was arrested & manhandled is also shameful & reprehensible,” Khan tweeted.
Hours after Elahi’s arrest, prominent Pakistani human rights activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir, 36, was allegedly abducted by unidentified men in the country’s largest city, Karachi.
Meanwhile, Khan, who was also charged with corruption by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) leading to his arrest, has announced filing a $53m defamation suit against the agency.
In a tweet on Friday, the cricketing icon-turned-politician said he has served a legal notice to Nazir Ahmad Butt, a retired military general who now heads the NAB.
“My arrest warrant was issued on a public holiday and was kept in secrecy for eight days. I was not informed about conversion of Al-Qadir Trust Case Inquiry into Investigation,” Khan tweeted.
“Ulterior motive was to defame me by arresting me from premises of Islamabad High Court. And show the world that I was arrested on corruption charges,” he wrote.
Since his removal from power after losing a confidence vote in parliament, more than 100 cases, including “terrorism” and incitement to violence, have been brought against Khan, who calls it a conspiracy by the “establishment” – a euphemism for Pakistan’s powerful military – to stop him from contesting national elections due by October.
Top ministers in Pakistan’s government have said they plan to ban Khan’s PTI and try the party chief in a military court, where dozens of his supporters are set to be tried despite criticism by rights groups.
Broadcast of Khan’s speeches or news conferences have been banned in Pakistan since March.
On Wednesday, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority restricted television channels from giving airtime to “hate mongers, rioters, their facilitators and perpetrators”, without explicitly naming Khan or his party.