Anti-corruption authorities in Pakistan briefly arrested a female opposition leader Saturday on land-grabbing allegations dating back five decades, a move that critics swiftly condemned as politically motivated.
Former human rights minister Shireen Mazari, a vocal critic of the powerful Pakistani military for its alleged meddling in politics, was dragged out of her car and taken into custody near her residence in the capital, Islamabad, according to witnesses and video footage of the incident.
The capital’s high court intervened after Mazari’s daughter complained, leading to Mazari’s release hours later, near midnight.
The court also instructed the government to conduct a judicial inquiry to ascertain who was behind the politician’s unlawful detention. Government officials did take responsibility for detaining the former minister.
Mazari was arrested for an offense her family allegedly committed in 1972, when she was 6 years old, according to the police complaint registered against her late last month.
She served in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Cabinet until an opposition-led parliamentary vote of no-confidence toppled his nearly 4-year-old government in early April and political rival Shehbaz Sharif replaced Khan as the head of the new ruling coalition.
“Her arrest smacks of political victimization, which has regrettably become an entrenched practice and is deplorable no matter which party is the perpetrator,” the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said on Twitter, in denouncing Mazari’s arrest and “manhandling.”
Former prime minister Khan also took to Twitter to denounce the Sharif government, saying Mazari was “violently abducted from outside her house by this fascist regime.”
Khan has accused the United States of conspiring with Sharif-led Pakistani opposition parties to oust him from power and condemns the ruling coalition as an “imported government.”
Sharif rejects the charges as lies, and U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said last month “there is absolutely no truth to the allegations.”
Speaking to reporters after her release, Mazari alleged that the government and the military were behind her detention. She claimed the move was aimed at deterring her and her party from seeking an explanation from the military as to “whether they had played a role in the foreign conspiracy” to remove Khan from office.
The cricketer-turned-politician has held massive anti-government rallies across Pakistan since his ouster last month to demand early elections. Khan said Sunday he would announce details of his long-promised march on Islamabad to press his demands.