Imran Khan’s internet connection was abruptly snapped shortly before he was to join a “very important” meeting with British Conservative MPs, his party says.
Sayed Z Bukhari, a member of Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) who served in the former prime minister’s cabinet, told The Independent that the current Pakistani administration is trying to “isolate him in a corner” from the rest of the world by cutting off the internet from his residence in Lahore’s Zaman Park.
“The internet was deliberately cut down almost 15 minutes before the meeting with dozens of British parliamentarians and sitting ministers was about to start,” Mr Bukhari said.
He said Mr Khan faces “imminent” arrest and that he is effectively living in conditions of house arrest currently, with his home cordoned off by security forces and his movement restricted.
“Imran Khan faces an arrest that is imminent any moment, and faces a huge security risk to his life as well,” he said.
Mr Bukhari had organised a meeting at 5.30pm local Pakistan time on Wednesday when the internet from Mr Khan’s residence was cut off, he said. The internet remains suspended in a 5km radius around Zaman Park till Thursday.
“Imran Khan is in Zaman Park at the moment and in a house arrest-like situation. It is difficult for him to leave with his cars confiscated and his house is totally cordoned off by police forces and internet cut off.
“They are trying to limit Imran Khan to four walls and push him into a corner with nobody around him. It is a very sad situation,” he said.
Mr Bukhari claimed information about the meeting leaked out and the internet was deliberately cut to stop him from reaching out to important people.
“[This] was a very big and important meeting. Having people from [the UK] parliament is no joke and it got out. It holds a lot of weight and that meeting obviously leaked out and the internet was deliberately cut. They know that perhaps I am lobbying outside and they want to cut Mr Khan’s interaction from the outside world,” he said.
Several British politicians who were due to be part of the meeting with Mr Khan criticised the Pakistani authorities for cutting off his internet.
Sara Britcliffe, Conservative MP for Hyndburn, said she is “extremely concerned by the deteriorating economic, political and security situation” and raised the issue of internet suspension.
“Today @ImranKhanPTI was set to join a call with senior Conservative Party colleagues when, without warning, Pakistan’s telecoms authorities cut off internet connections to his compound,” she said.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith also spoke out about the incident and said that “as a friend of Pakistani democracy I’m pushing for the release of political prisoners and orderly and free elections”.
Mr Khan was ousted as prime minister through a no-confidence vote by a unified opposition last year, and then dramatically arrested on 9 May on corruption charges.
The cricketer-turned-politician remains embroiled in more than 100 legal cases, ranging from corruption and terrorism to blasphemy. He says the charges are politically motivated.
Mr Khan was charged with inciting violence in the country after thousands of his supporters, anguished over their leader’s arrest, staged violent protests across Pakistan.
In violence spanning over three days, Mr Khan’s supporters attacked the military’s headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and even burned down the residence of a top regional army commander in the eastern city of Lahore.
Dialling down his rhetoric, Mr Khan told Independent Urdu that he is open to negotiations with the army chief and even the Pakistan government to break the standoff.
In the last YouTube video on his channel, where he addresses his huge fan base, Mr Khan appeared to soften his year-long demand for early elections and said he is forming a committee for talks with the government to end the country’s political turmoil.
“If they tell the committee that they have a solution and the country can be governed better without me, or (if) they tell the committee the holding of elections in October benefits Pakistan, I will step back,” said Mr Khan.
Mr Bukhari said he could continue to strive to “create international awareness around the human rights atrocities that are happening in Pakistan at the moment, and how democracy has been derailed”.
He said the party was open to negotiations as dialogue was the only way forward between Mr Khan and the military, that is considered to wield a lot of influence in the country.
“At the end of the day, chief of the army and Imran Khan are the most powerful people in the country,” he said.
“They must sit down and have dialogue as well as both of them are the realities of the country. One of them is the most powerful leader and one is the most powerful man in the country,” he said.
The remarks come as there have been a spate of resignations of top political leaders of Mr Khan’s party, following arrests and fresh cases on them.
Former information minister Fawad Chaudhry, former finance minister Asad Umar and federal minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari were among the high-profile departures, in a blow to the party that the government is considering banning.
Defence minister Khawaja Asif told reporters on Wednesday that the government is considering banning the PTI for attacking the “very basis of state” and this could not be tolerated.
A ban could likely further enrage Mr Khan’s supporters and exacerbate the confrontation with the military establishment.
Earlier this week, Mr Khan was granted bail by an Islamabad court in eight more cases until next month. His wife Bushra Bibi was granted bail until 31 May in a corruption case by the National Accountability Bureau court.