Pakistan re-arrests Imran Khan's key associate amid crackdown on his followers

Supporters of Pakistan Muslim League take part in a rally to show solidarity with Pakistan's army in Karachi, Pakistan, Saturday, May 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani authorities Monday arrested a key associate of former Prime Minister Imran Khan just hours after she was released from custody as authorities pressed on with a crackdown on Khan's supporters.

Shireen Mazari, who served as rights minister under Khan during his 2018-2022 term in office, was arrested last Thursday in the capital, Islamabad, on charges of inciting people to violence. She was released Monday on a court order but was again taken into custody hours later.

Mazari has been a vocal critic of Pakistan's military and the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who replaced Khan after his ouster in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April 2022.

Authorities began a crackdown after Khan supporters attacked public property and military installations following his arrest this month.

Mazari's daughter, Imaan Mazari, had petitioned a high court, arguing that her mother's arrest was unlawful. She said the Lahore High Court ordered her mother's release on Monday.

It was unclear what charges Mazari faced after she was arrested Monday.

Originally, she was arrested earlier this month and later released by a high court in Islamabad, and has several legal cases pending against her.

The development is the latest in the political drama that has engulfed Pakistan following Khan's arrest, which triggered days of protests and violence unseen in years. Ten of Khan's supporters were killed in clashes with the police.

Followers of the popular opposition leader attacked security forces and torched government and military property. Troops were deployed to contain the violence, which subsided only after Khan was released.

Khan has since then dialed down his anti-government campaign, denouncing the violence and demanding an independent probe to determine who was behind the turmoil.

Sharif's government, meanwhile, has arrested over the past two weeks nearly 4,000 supporters of Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf opposition party. It has also pledged to prosecute all those involved in the attacks on military and public property.

On Monday, Pakistan's National Assembly — or lower house of parliament — passed a resolution denouncing attacks on military installations and public property, and vowed to try all those linked to the recent violence in the military and anti-terrorism court.

In his speech at the assembly, Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif said they “have videos showing Khan's sisters” and close relatives among the rioters at the residence of a top regional military commander, which was torched.

Sharif, in the southwestern city of Quetta, said those who were involved in the attacks on public property and military installations were “enemies of Pakistan” and vowed to try them in military courts.

Leading rights group Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have expressed their concern over the government’s plans to use the military courts to try civilians. On Monday, Khan's party also petitioned the Supreme Court not to allow the government to go ahead with military trials of protesters arrested in the recent clashes.

A former cricket star turned Islamist politician, Khan has claimed that his ouster was part of a plot by the United States and Sharif, aided by Pakistan's military — claims all three have denied.

Khan says he is facing nearly 150 legal cases against him, and fears another arrest Tuesday, when he is to appear before the National Accountability Authority in Islamabad to answer questions in connection with a graft case.