By Islamuddin Sajid
Over 100 supporters of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were arrested in northeastern city of Lahore on late Wednesday, ahead of his return from London later this week, local media reported.
Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, who were handed jail terms in a corruption case earlier this month, are all set to return to their country on Friday.
Several elected members of local city councils held by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) were also picked up from their houses during overnight operations against Sharif’s party to halt the gathering to welcome the Sharifs from London, Geo News, a local broadcaster, reported on Thursday.
On July 6, a Pakistani court had handed down a 10-year jail term to Sharif and also imposed 8 million pounds ($10.58 million) fine on him in a graft case linked to the buying of four luxury apartments at Avenfiled House in London's posh Park Lane area in 1993 allegedly through illegal means.
His daughter Maryam and her husband Safdar were sentenced to seven years and one year in jail, respectively. The court had also ordered the confiscation of the four apartments in London, and imposed a fine of 2 million pounds ($2.65 million) on Maryam.
The local TV channels showed videos of PML-N leaders and workers protesting outside the police stations in Lahore, where their workers were detained.
Shehbaz Sharif, former Punjab chief minister and president of the PML-N, condemned the detention of party workers.
“We are not afraid of jails and shackles and a warm welcome for our party supremo is our legal and constitutional right,” Sharif told Geo News in an interview.
“I will go to the airport along with party workers to receive Nawaz on Friday,” he maintained.
- Government's response
Meanwhile, Syed Ali Zafar, the caretaker federal information minister said, the government is not taking action against the individuals of any party.
“The implementation of the court order is our constitutional obligation and if anyone has a complaint against the decision he can go to the Supreme Court and High court,” Zafar told reporters in Islamabad.
“The government is impartial and our mandate is to run the affairs peacefully,” he added.
Sharif, who is currently in London to see his ailing wife, has already announced that he will return to Pakistan on July 13 despite the court verdict against him.
“Doctors said they can’t say when my mother would regain consciousness but we have decided to return Pakistan on Friday,” Maryam Nawaz, who is also in London, said on Twitter.
Last July, 68-year-old Sharif was barred from holding public office by the Supreme Court over the whistleblower Panama Papers scandal, which also led to the filing of three corruption cases, including the Avenfield properties case against him and his family.
Not long after, the top court also barred him from holding the leadership of his political party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).
The former premier insists all transactions he and his family made were legal.
Sharif, who served as the premier from 1990 to 1992, 1997 to 1999, and 2013 to 2017, could not complete even a single five-year term. His two previous governments were dismissed over corruption charges and through a bloodless military coup in 1992 and 1999, respectively.