Imran Khan supporters say their businesses targeted in Pakistan

Authorities in Punjab province deny any acts of vengeance against ex-PM’s political party and its supporters.

Police detain a supporter of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan in Lahore, Pakistan
Police detain a supporter of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Lahore, Pakistan, on May 10, 2023 [File: KM Chaudary/AP Photo]

Islamabad, Pakistan — As the government carries out a crackdown on Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, supporters in Punjab province say authorities are targeting the businesses of people sympathetic to the former prime minister.

Hammad Azhar, a top PTI aide, told Al Jazeera that his family-owned business, AFCO Steel Industries, was shuttered by police for more than a week.

“Both our headquarters and the factory in Lahore were raided late on June 1. Police officials and a district officer arrived and sealed the premises with a handwritten note,” Azhar said on Wednesday.

He added that police harassed his staff when they closed his business, one of the oldest steel manufacturers in Pakistan, and refused to say why they were doing so.

“The authorities did not have any documentary evidence or sealing warrants, and yet they sealed our factory,” he said. “Thankfully, after we filed a petition, the Lahore High Court on June 7 gave us relief and ordered authorities to reopen our factory.”

The arrest of Khan on May 9 sparked countrywide protests by his supporters. Thousands of PTI workers and party leaders have been arrested for vandalism and rioting during the rallies, and the government has promised to try those involved in military courts.

Many party supporters and workers have accused police of conducting raids on their homes and businesses as part of what they call a nationwide witch-hunt meant to intimidate them.

Khan has repeatedly claimed that Pakistan’s powerful military establishment is trying to pressure his party members to “break” the PTI.

Since Khan’s arrest, police have conducted six raids on Azhar’s home to try to arrest him as one of the alleged conspirators behind the May 9 violence. He said he has gone into hiding but police detained his father for two hours on June 4.

A longtime party supporter from Sargodha, a city in the eastern province of Punjab, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, said on Wednesday that his family-owned wedding hall business was also closed by police in late May.

“We have been running these wedding halls since 2018, and we have never faced any problems in the past,” he told Al Jazeera. “However, this time, a few police officials came on May 31, and on some flimsy excuses of land control violations, they sealed the business.”

The PTI supporter, who is also in hiding, said that while police did not cause any damage to his wedding halls, they had raided his residence, breaking doors and windows and arresting several of his household staff.

Amir Mir, the interim information minister for Punjab province, confirmed that businesses across the region had been sealed but insisted that only those who broke the law were affected.

“These are routine matters, and hundreds of sealing orders have been issued,” Mir told Al Jazeera, declining to elaborate.

Another PTI supporter, who asked to remain anonymous, said his motorcycle showroom in the eastern city of Lahore was shuttered by police late last month, costing him millions of rupees in revenue.

“Our showroom usually sells more than 400 motorbikes in a month, with an average price of one unit over 240,000 rupees [$835]. You can imagine how much business we are losing out due to this closure,” he said, adding that he too is in hiding.

“More than 20 people, including policemen and some plainclothes people, came to my showroom on May 30. They did not give any reason why the office was being sealed. They took our laptops, dismantled our cameras and went away,” he told Al Jazeera by phone.

State authorities have repeatedly denied that PTI supporters or their businesses have been targeted.

An official with the provincial commissioner’s office in Lahore, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said the province is currently cracking down on illegal encroachments.

Allegations of PTI supporters being targeted were unfounded, he said.

“Last week, we issued more than 200 sealing warrants on account of encroachment for dengue-related matters and several other civic violations,” the official told Al Jazeera.

“Claiming that this is an act of vengeance against one political party or its supporters is completely baseless,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera