LAHORE: On the first day of the ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ launched by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), at least “81 party supporters”, including members of its top brass, were rounded up by the police and moved to Kot Lakhpat jail after they courted arrest at Charing Cross on The Mall, on Wednesday.
Party supporters had moved in a convoy, led by Dr Yasmin Rashid, and reached Charing Cross via Jail Road, where they staged a sit-in and chanted slogans against the federal and the Punjab governments.
Videos circulated on social media showed a large number of PTI workers who had thronged the site of the sit-in in front of the Punjab Assembly.
The PTI workers had also brought a “dummy jail” to Charing Cross. Some workers stood inside the cage and gave interviews to media persons on the party policy towards the movement.
A police official was also seen with a megaphone asking PTI workers to board a prison van if they wanted to turn themselves in. Another video shared by the PTI workers showed PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Secretary General Asad Umar, former governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema, former minister Murad Raas, Senator Azam Swati, and Senator Walid Iqbal sitting in a prison van after they allegedly forced their way through.
Some diehard PTI workers were seen perched atop the prison van on Ferozepur Road heading towards the prison.
Taking to Twitter, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said many PTI leaders and workers, including Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Asad Umar, and Ejaz Chaudhry, “surrendered themselves” before the police.
He claimed that the “sea of people had created panic” among the policemen deployed on duty on The Mall.
Mr Qureshi, while speaking from inside the police van, said: “I am ‘happy and satisfied’, and I urge the masses to break the shackles of fear and venture out.”
Earlier, Mr Qureshi addressed the workers on Jail Road and asked them to be ready for a great cause the PTI has been pursuing. He said Imran Khan had stopped him from offering arrest but he would reach Charing Cross and court arrest as he was a prominent leader and supposed to lead from the front.
The entire protest remained peaceful except for a sole incident wherein members of the PTI reportedly damaged the windshield of a police van.
There is an ambiguity regarding the number of arrests. PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry claimed that about 500 to 700 party workers courted arrest whereas the Punjab government was informed by the police that at least 81 PTI members were imprisoned at Kot Lakhpat.
However, independent estimates suggest at least 200 people were detained by police.
Meanwhile, several workers and leaders also reached Kot Lakhpat Jail on private vehicles to turn themselves in. A heavy contingent of police was guarding the main gate of the jail.
The arrest of PTI supporters came in contrast to the earlier claims made by the PML-N leaders, including Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, that the government had no plan to arrest the PTI workers.
Speaking about the movement, PTI Chairman Imran Khan said the court arrest movement was launched for ‘real freedom’.
In a series of tweets, Mr Khan said the movement was a peaceful, non-violent protest against the attack on people’s constitutionally-guaranteed fundamental rights.
“We are facing sham FIRs and NAB cases, custodial torture, attacks on journalists and social media people,” he observed. Explaining the second reason for the movement, Mr Khan stated, “It is against the economic meltdown brought on by cabal of crooks, who have money laundered billions in looted wealth and gotten NROs for themselves while crushing people, especially the poor and middle class, under the burden of spiraling inflation and rising unemployment.”
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Tallal Chaudhry had claimed that the government had decided not to arrest the PTI workers. However, police arrested over 80 workers and leaders and shifted them to jail under 16 MPO.
Talal Chaudhry told a presser on Wednesday that the government would not arrest any PTI worker as per the wishes of Imran Khan.
“Imran’s own children are in London and he wants the children of this county to go to jail. We have no plan to arrest the PTI workers,” he declared and asked the PTI chairman to court arrest instead of asking his workers to go to jail.
According to a Punjab government spokesman, the government had ordered legal action against various persons for committing the violation of Section 144. He stated that Section 144 was imposed in various parts of the city owing to PSL matches so that comprehensive security arrangements could be ensured on the arrival of PSL cricket teams in Lahore.
The spokesman said that the workers of a political party staged a demonstration on The Mall and raised slogans as well as “boarded a police van forcefully”.