Whether one agrees with Nawaz Sharif or not, it should be a conceded fact that Pakistan is a democratic country, where all are guaranteed basic political rights, including the right to protest. Thoughts on the Avenfield verdict aside, it should be a uniting point for all political parties to have an election free of bias, where political workers can campaign and hold rallies without fear of arrest. What happened yesterday and has been happening for some weeks now with PML-N leaders, in that aspect thus is a tragedy and should be condemned by all parties.

We watched on that fateful Friday the 13th, as the fundamental political right to protest and campaign was withheld from PML-N workers, as at least 300 party workers and party leaders, including a Union Council chairman, vice chairman and counsellors were arrested in a crackdown in Lahore. These arrests were a precautionary measure to “maintain law and order” in preparation of the controversial return of Nawaz and Maryam Sharif. This return was predicted to invoke many loyal PML-N members to rally together and protest peacefully, as is their constitutional right to do; yet these peaceful attempts to greet the party’s former leader were thwarted by the government.

The danger that this precedent sets seems to be understood by PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto, who despite having PML-N as a rival, has spoken against these arrests. Not only are such arrests against due process and violating the democratic rights of a political party to protest, it is also a decisively biased move by a care-taker government to suppress a political leader’s popularity. Such unreasonable arrests by an overreaching care-taker government to diminish the influence of a party invoke dark reminders of political suppression by past dictators. Those arrested workers should be released immediately, and these arrests must be condemned by all political parties.