Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan said Wednesday that senior officials are being pressured into resigning amid a crackdown on his party, with a former cabinet member the latest aide to quit.
Rights monitors said authorities had detained thousands of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party supporters and officials since days of street violence erupted over his brief arrest earlier this month.
Fawad Chaudhry, who served as information minister in Khan’s government, is the second high-profile aide to resign in as many days, following PTI senior vice-president Shireen Mazari on Tuesday.
Chaudhry had been once arrested for allegedly instigating violence over Khan’s May 9 detention, PTI said, while Mazari was arrested and released five times.
“This is a crackdown that I have never seen in the history of Pakistan before,” Khan said in a video address on Wednesday night.
“If you say that you are part of PTI, then you will face oppression and violence, you will be locked up,” he said.
“If you say the magic words, ‘We are no longer in PTI’, then you will be released.”
Khan claimed the suppression was being targeted at grassroots supporters, as well as officials.
“They have put everyone in jail, I don’t even know who to contact anymore,” he said from his home in the eastern city of Lahore.
Chaudhry announced his resignation on Twitter, denouncing the civil unrest and saying he would “take a break from politics.”
“I have resigned from party position and parting ways from Imran Khan,” he wrote.
He could not be reached for further comment by AFP.
Amnesty International on Tuesday said, “a pall of fear hangs over Khan’s supporters following the arbitrary arrests of many opposition leaders.”
“Authorities must stop clamping down on the political opposition” they said in a joint statement with other organizations, accusing the government of using “vague anti-terrorism laws” to justify detentions.
Since he was ousted from office, 70-year-old Khan has waged an unprecedented campaign of defiance against the powerful military establishment, long regarded as Pakistan’s powerbrokers.
He accuses the top brass of orchestrating his downfall and even plotting a November assassination attempt in which he was shot in the leg, allegations that the army denies.
His arrest on graft charges at the Islamabad High Court came just hours after he repeated the claim and was seen by his party as a bid to quash support ahead of elections due no later than October.
People rampaged through cities, setting fire to buildings, blocking roads, and clashing with police outside military installations during unrest in which nine people were killed.
Khan walked free from three days of custody after the Supreme Court declared the arrest illegal.
The military has denied claims by Khan that “agencies” planned the violence to smear his party.
Meanwhile Islamabad has pledged to try in military courts those accused of violence against army installations.