Opposition leader Muhammad Safdar was released on bail ahead of a large anti-government demonstration.
Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani opposition political leader Muhammad Safdar was released on bail hours after he was arrested by authorities for speaking in a mausoleum before a major anti-government rally on Sunday.
Safdar was arrested early Monday in his hotel room in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, said his wife Maryam Nawaz, the daughter and political heir of former three-time Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Later on Monday, Nawaz confirmed at a press conference that Safdar had been released on bail.
“We are both leaving Karachi together because I just got a message … that he has been given bail,” said Nawaz.
Safdar was detained in connection with charges against him for raising political slogans in the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, on Sunday.
This incident occurred hours before a political rally of tens of thousands in Karachi, part of the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) nationwide effort to overthrow Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government.
The PDM was founded last month and is an alliance of eleven opposition parties, including the Nawaz Group (PML-N) of the Pakistan Muslim League, the Pakistan People’s Party, the Fazl Group of the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI-F) and others .
The PDM claims that Khan’s victory in the 2018 general election was rigged by the military in the country, which has ruled the country directly for about half of its 73-year history.
Khan and the military have routinely denied the allegation. The Prime Minister accused the opposition of attempting to deflect or discredit his government’s anti-corruption campaign, which arrested or investigated several high-level political opponents for alleged corruption.
The military has taken on an increasingly overt role in governance under Khan, with serving and retired military officials holding key positions in its administration, including health, telecommunications, economics and the $ 60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
At the rally in Karachi on Sunday, PDM leaders reiterated their allegations against Khan and criticized him for his handling of the country’s economy.
It was the second major protest by the group, which launched its anti-government campaign on Friday with a protest of thousands in downtown Gujranwala.
During the demonstration, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, who had video-linked the gathering from London, targeted the military and accused Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa of rigging the 2018 elections and planning his dismissal as prime minister in 2017.
Sharif traveled to London on bail last year when his conviction was appealed and sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges.
Supporters of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) respond to party songs during an anti-government protest rally in Karachi [Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]Last month, an Islamabad court issued arrest warrants against him, asking him to return to the country and appear in person for hearings.
Sharif is also charged with criticizing the military’s alleged role in politics.
The opposition movement to overthrow Khan stems from the fact that the Pakistani economy – which was struggling before the pandemic – is struggling with double-digit food inflation and negative economic growth.
Khan’s government says it will be looking at food inflation in the coming weeks, blaming the coronavirus pandemic and economic climate it inherited from Sharif’s PML-N in 2018 for the economic slowdown.
The PDM will continue its nationwide protest movement with further anti-government demonstrations in the coming days, the PDM leaders announced on Monday.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweeted @AsadHashim