Leader of Pakistani Rights Movement Is Arrested on Conspiracy Charges

Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, at center during a rally in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2018.
Credit…K.M. Chaudary/Associated Press

Source: www.nytimes.com

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani authorities on Monday arrested the leader of a civil rights movement who for nearly two years has challenged the country’s powerful security forces by demanding they be held accountable for extrajudicial killings and kidnappings, his colleagues said.

The leader, Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, was arrested in the early hours of Monday morning on five separate charges, including conspiracy and sedition, after giving a speech that officials said was against the Constitution and the state. He was detained in Peshawar, the capital of the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, his colleagues said.

Mr. Pashteen and his movement, widely known by the initials P.T.M., have presented one of the most influential challenges to the military’s dominance of Pakistan as it has cracked down on minorities, journalists and other critics in recent years.

While the P.T.M. focused on demanding justice for the country’s sizable Pashtun minority, its influence quickly grew larger than the movement itself. The large crowds P.T.M. drew to the streets, and the boldness of its leadership in openly challenging the security forces, inspired other advocates to join in.

Despite Mr. Pashteen’s arrest, other P.T.M. leaders have vowed to press on.

“The arrests cannot stop our struggle,” said Mohsin Dawar, a parliamentarian and a P.T.M. leader.

Under the five charges, which include sedition and criminal conspiracy, Mr. Pashteen could face up to life in prison. A court in Peshawar on Monday gave Mr. Pashteen 14 days of pretrial detention, according to the local news media.

This is the first time Mr. Pashteen has been arrested since the popular movement began almost two years ago. Although his associates have been arrested and protesters have been intimidated or abused, the authorities had until now avoided going straight at Mr. Pashteen, who has become an influential public figure despite the authorities’ efforts to impose a news blackout around P.T.M.’s activities.

Pakistani officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment and made no official statement.

A local security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details the unpublicized case, said Mr. Pashteen had been arrested after making “anti-national comments” during a speech in Dera Ismail Khan, south of Peshawar, this month. A copy of the police report, made available to The New York Times, accused Mr. Pashteen of attacking Pakistan’s Constitution during his speech and of conspiring against the state and its sovereignty. Mr. Pashteen is also accused of inciting hatred between different Pakistani ethnic groups.

Though the group has kept to its philosophy of nonviolent protest, the authorities have accused them of trying to violently subvert the state, and of being proxies for Afghanistan and India in trying to undermine the country. P.T.M. officials deny those accusations.

Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Maria Abi-Habib from New Delhi. Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting.

Categories: Afghanistan,Pakistan,PTM,World News

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