Level-playing field means 'you tie my hands?': Imran Khan

Imran Khan says those in power must know that containers cannot stop people who want true independence

Ahmed Faraz
Azam Malik
Duaa Mirza

An overview of the PTI jalsa underway at Lahores Minar-e-Pakistan, on March 25, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — GeoNews
An overview of the PTI jalsa underway at Lahore's Minar-e-Pakistan, on March 25, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — GeoNews

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan censured the PDM government, saying the level-playing field does not mean his party is cornered as almost 150 cases have been lodged against him.

"A level-playing field does not mean Imran Khan's hands are tied. A century of cases have been filed against me, including 40 terrorism cases. Now, the number of cases is almost 150," Khan said, addressing a public gathering just a couple of hours before the fourth sehri of the holy month of Ramadan.

He praised his party's supporters for showing up at the rally's venue, saying that despite all kinds of obstacles, people, in large number, came to Minar-e-Pakistan. "Those in power must know that [blocking the roads and pathways with shipping] containers cannot stop people who want true independence," he explained, adding that fear was spread to frustrate the public meeting.

Imran said that his government was overthrown under a conspiracy and criminals were imposed on our country as part of the plot.

He argued that true freedom can only be achieved with justice, citing examples of people in other countries standing up to oppression. He stressed that Pakistan will have true freedom when it has supremacy and rule of law.

Khan underscored that the country has not achieved the freedom it deserves under the rule of law and criticised the government and democrats for not upholding it.

"We did not get the freedom which we should have got from the rule of law. It is unfortunate that even our democrats didn't let the law have an upper hand in the country," he lamented.

The PTI organised the jalsa at Lahore’s monumental Minar-e-Pakistan ground despite the interim Punjab government’s “threat alert” that terrorists might target political functions in the provincial capital.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan — who was ousted as the prime minister in April last year and is embroiled in dozens of cases — addressed the crowd, standing behind a bulletproof container, which has been placed at the jalsa ground to ensure his security.

In the alert, the government has said that terrorists, carrying explosive material, have reached Lahore and will either target political rallies or law enforcers deployed for the security of those events.

As the party prepares to hold the gathering, the government has placed containers on the way leading to Minar-e-Pakistan, leading to hurdles for people seeking to partake in the jalsa.

But in his statement, caretaker Punjab Information Minister Amir Mir said that people are not being restricted from going to the rally through barriers, but the law enforcement agencies were ensuring citizens' protection through these measures.

The minister also added said that the workers of any political party are not being prevented from joining the rally and that the government has given permission to PTI to hold the event.

The routes leading to Minar Pakistan from Ravi Bridge and Railway Station are closed, while containers have also been placed at the city's Shah Alam Market.

Moreover, the Sagian Bridge and Engineering University Road routes are closed. The Shahdara, Ravi Toll Plaza, and Bati Chowk routes to Minar-e-Pakistan routes have been blocked with containers while Niazi Chowk, Delhi Gate and Dumuria Bridge have also been blocked.

On the other hand, the police have arrested over 50 PTI workers from different areas of Rahim Yar Khan, while 26 workers including PTI leader Javed Akhtar Ansari's son were arrested in Multan, Geo News reported.

The PTI claimed that many workers have also been detained from Lodhran and Bhakkar.

Meanwhile, CCPO Lahore Bilal Siddique Kamyana refuted reports of roadblocks being placed on roads leading up to the ground and said people are being allowed to pass through after checking.

Internet services suspended

Internet services have been suspended in different parts of Lahore, including Zaman Park, Minar-e-Pakistan, Garhi Shahu, Davis Road, and Lakshmi Chowk.

The suspension of internet services was reported in areas adjacent to the venue of the PTI public meeting.

Lahore police, however, said that the “security measures” should not be given the impression of “blocking” the roads. The “steps” have been taken in connecting with the security threats, the police added.

“Citizens are reaching the Minar-e-Pakistan without any hindrance,” the police official refuted the PTI’s allegations.

People heading towards the venue of the PTI Jalsa are being checked to avoid any untoward incident, the officials added.

Defy roadblocks

Calling on workers to walk to the rally if the roads were blocked, PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the city administration had cluttered the city with barricades to undermine the party's scheduled public rally, which was suggestive of panic in the government camp.

"How can they call themselves democratic? Are the workers of PML-N arrested?" Qureshi said talking to the media hours ahead of the PTI's Minar-e-Pakistan rally.

He said the district administration had threatened the transporters that any vehicle bearing PTI flags would not be allowed to enter Lahore.

"Despite all the obstacles, people will come," the PTI leader said while strictly advising workers not to take the law into their hands.

Holding a peaceful public gathering was their constitutional right, Qureshi said and added why roads were blocked under the pretext of security when the PTI was allowed to rally at Minar-e-Pakistan.

"We have to defend the constitution and stand by the judiciary," said the PTI senior stalwart adding, "What is happening in Lahore is in front of everyone to see?"

"The district administration looks not only helpless but also incapacitated.

Why they blocked the city with shipping containers after permitting us to exercise our right to political freedom?"

The court gave the permission, he said, adding there was no justification for containers.

"The police and the administration are requested to remove the containers," Qureshi passionately appealed to the authorities.

He said obstacles were proof that PTI's power show was proving to be a success even before starting.

"Imran Khan's today's message is very important. If they don't let your car through, come on foot," said Qureshi while complaining that their workers were being arrested.

He said police had arrested around 1,500 to 1,800 PTI workers since the announcement of the rally.

"Police are raiding workers' houses during Iftar and after taraweeh to arrest them and are taking their sons with them if they can't find the fathers."

Qureshi said he did not like the word "democratic" in the name of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). "People do not consider PDM members as democrats and are also not ready to accept it."

Qureshi questioned: "Why are containers not used to block the cities where Maryam Nawaz goes to address rallies?" Lahore has a political consciousness and it has never been silent, he said.

He said there were reports the government had announced to cancel licences of the vehicles used by the rally-goers to reach Lahore. "We are not doing anything illegal. We are only holding a public meeting with the permission of the court," Qureshi said.

He also issued an advisory on the political workers' code of conduct by telling them not to carry sticks or stones to the rally but come armed with passion.

"There's no weapon greater than passion," Qureshi said.

The PTI leader said they were taking legal action against the postponement of elections from April to October this year.

"Given the sensitivity of the situation, the Chief Justice of Pakistan is requested to hear the plea on the causal list."

"We are unarmed. We are not wielding sticks. If they (the government) make mischief, we will remain patient," said he. "When the chief justice takes up our petition, Shehbaz Sharif could also face a verdict similar to the one that disqualified Yousuf Raza Gilani as prime minister."

Let's not forget Gilani also got disqualified for disobeying the court order, Qureshi said.

"Now Shehbaz is doing the same thing."

'Break all records'

Earlier today, the police launched a crackdown against the PTI workers, while some roads leading to the location have been blocked, Geo News reported.

The PTI chairman taking to Twitter, called on his supporters in Lahore to attend the jalsa after Taraweeh prayers which he believes will "break all records". 

The deposed prime minister, who was ousted last year in April through a vote of no-confidence, said that he will give his vision of "Haqeeqi Azadi" and how to pull the country out of the mess the "cabal of crooks have put our country in".

Saying that the [government] will put obstacles to prevent the supporters from attending the gathering, Khan highlighted that it is the people's fundamental right to be a part of a jalsa.

"Everyone must assert their right as people of a free nation that won its independence & come to Minar i Pakistan," he added.

Today's public gathering will take place after Taraweeh at 9pm at Lahore's Minar-e-Pakistan.

The district administration has allowed the PTI to hold a rally at the Minar-e-Pakistan tonight, however, containers have been placed on some routes leading to the rally, including the entrance and exit routes of Lahore.