Sharif arrested on his return home
Former Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif was arrested on his return to the country yesterday, where he faces 10 years in prison for corruption, ahead of already tense elections his party claims are being rigged. Sharif and his daughter Maryam “have been arrested” by corruption authorities “with immediate effect and till further orders”, according to a statement from the Islamabad city administration.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested yesterday by the country’s anti-graft agency following a conviction on corruption charges last week, officials said.
The three-time prime minister and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were taken into custody at the airport in Lahore after the aircraft carrying them from Abu Dhabi landed, according to antigraft body spokesman Nawazish Khan.
Uniformed men escorted the Sharifs, who were sentenced in absentia on corruption charges last week, from their airplane after it touched down around 8.45pm (1645 GMT), a Reuters reporter on board said.
A spokesman for Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party confirmed they were arrested soon afterwards.
Local Geo TV said Sharif and his daughter were taken to another waiting aircraft to be flown out of Lahore, where more than 10,000 Sharif supporters were gathered to greet him.
They were headed to Islamabad and would be imprisoned in a high-security jail in Rawalpindi, another official at the agency told DPA.
“A four-member medical team will examine them before putting them in jail,” said Bilal Punnu, the anti-graft agency’s official.
Sharif and his daughter were sentenced to 10 and eight years in jail respectively by an anti-graft court last week on corruption charges related to information contained in the 2016 Panama Papers leaks.
The decision, which came just weeks ahead of national elections, has reinforced the suspicion held by many that the country’s powerful military colluded with the judiciary to prevent Sharif’s party from seeking another term.
The Sharifs’ return could shake up an election race marred by accusations that the military is working behind the scenes to skew the contest in favour of excricket hero Imran Khan, who describes Sharif as a “criminal” who deserves no support.
The military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half its history since 1947, has denied interfering in modern-day politics.
Tens of thousands of Sharif’s supporters rallied in Lahore in a bid to reach the airport to welcome their leader, but only a few could make it there due to the heavy deployment of security forces.
Authorities deployed 15,000 police and 4,000 troops from a paramilitary force to stop rallies from reaching the airport, provincial home minister Shaukat Javed said.
Sharif’s followers fought pitched battles with security forces in and around Lahore and made advances at some points by pushing back the police and troops, but their efforts were not good enough.
At least 4,000 members of Sharif’s PML-N were arrested in a crackdown across the central province of Punjab, the former leader’s power base.
Authorities have put under house arrest several dozen leaders of Sharif’s party, including the former leader’s 93-yearold mother, who wanted to join the protest, his close aide Rana Sanaullah said.
Sharif, known as an advocate for civilian supremacy in a country marred by years of violence by militants and political upheavals, has rough relations with the military and the judiciary.
All his three terms in power ended prematurely, once through a direct military coup.
Mobile phone service had been cut off in mid-afternoon, as Sharif’s brother Shehbaz led around 10,000 party supporters on a march towards the city centre in defiance of a citywide ban on public gatherings, according to a Reuters witness.
Nawaz Sharif decried the tactics ordered by the caretaker government that took over in June ahead of the general election, as Pakistan’s constitution requires.
“What credibility will these elections have when the government is taking such a drastic action against our people and this crackdown is taking place all over the country?” he told Reuters at the airport in Abu Dhabi earlier in the day as he waited with his daughter for a connecting flight to Lahore.
Pakistan’s third major political movement, the Pakistan Peoples Party, joined the criticism of the crackdown, with its prime ministerial candidate Bilawal Bhutto Zardari questioning why Sharif’s supporters would be prevented from gathering.
“Why is Lahore under siege? Right to peaceful protest is fundamental for democracy,” tweeted Bhutto Zardari, the son of two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated at a political rally in 2007.
The country’s media regulator warned local news channels to abstain from airing statements “by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting various state institutions specifically judiciary and armed forces”, the regulator said in a statement.
Recent opinion polls suggest that the PML-N is losing its lead nationally to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of arch-rival Khan, whose anticorruption message has resonated with many Pakistanis.
After the Supreme Court ousted Sharif last July, the courts barred him from heading the PML-N party he founded.
His brother Shehbaz became PML-N’s president, but Sharif remains the power behind the throne.
Since then, a host of his allies have been either disqualified by the courts, or face corruption cases.
Many PML-N lawmakers have also defected to Khan’s party.
PML-N has also been riven by internal divisions.
Sections of the party oppose Sharif’s combative approach against the army and fear it will turn off voters in a deeply conservative and patriotic Muslim nation of 208mn people.
PML-N supporters in Karachi chant slogans against the arrest of fellow supporters in Lahore, who were on their way to welcome Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam.
Sharif and his daughter Maryam boarding the Lahore-bound flight at Abu Dhabi International Airport.