Pakistan under fire for mistreating, rearresting former Foreign Minister

A screenshot of a video on the PTI party's official X site shows Pakistan's former foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, being rearrested from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on Dec 27, 2023.

Pakistan's former foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, was rearrested on Wednesday and manhandled during the process shortly after being released on bail from a prison facility near the capital, Islamabad, in another case.

The 67-year-old opposition politician is the deputy chief of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan's opposition, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, party. Both are being tried on charges of making public state secrets involving the United States while in power. Both denounce the trial as a politically driven smear campaign.

On Wednesday, Qureshi was leaving the prison after the country's Supreme Court approved his bail a week earlier in the so-called "cipher case" involving state secrets, but police officers quickly detained him again in the presence of his family members and media waiting outside the jail premises. (Qureshi had been prevented from leaving the prison over other allegations despite the court's December 22 decision to grant bail.)

Footage of him being roughed up and pushed into an armored police vehicle quickly went viral on social media and some mainstream Pakistani TV channels. It sparked widespread criticism from Qureshi's party, politicians and civil society activists.

The arrest came amid an ongoing military-backed crackdown on the PTI and its candidates, who are preparing to contest the February general elections that, they allege, were designed to stop them and Khan from participating in the upcoming elections.

"This is the sorry state of affairs in Pakistan under a fascist regime, where there is no regard for the rule of law and the constitution," a PTI statement said.

Police said the former foreign minister was detained over his alleged involvement in attacks against military installations during anti-government protests last May, charges Qureshi rejects as politically motivated.

There was no response from the caretaker Pakistani government, which is mandated to oversee and ensure free and transparent elections.

Manner of arrest criticized

Mushahid Hussain, a veteran Pakistani senator and head of the parliament's defense affairs committee, harshly criticized the way Qureshi was arrested. The senator represents the Pakistan Muslim League-N Party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the upper house of the parliament.

"While the world around Pakistan is being transformed, at home, the country remains mired in an unending 'political tribalism' with such shameful scenes not only making Pakistan an international laughing-stock but also a pointer towards the country's slow-motion descent into a lawless Republic of Fear!" Hussain wrote on the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter.

Pakistani President Arif Alvi also took to X to advise authorities against turning the country into a state where "human rights and dignity are trampled upon with impunity." Alvi is a PTI loyalist, but the president is merely a figurehead post under the constitution.

Alvi wrote that "treating an ex foreign minister from two regimes in an undignified manner must draw the attention of the authorities."

Ammar Ali Jan, a human rights activist, condemned the detention of Qureshi, and demanded he be released. "This is not an arrest. It is an abduction in broad daylight by a gangster state," Jan said on X.

Khan still facing lawsuits

Khan, 71, was ousted from office last year through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, which he said was orchestrated by the powerful Pakistani military under pressure from the United States, charges Washington and Islamabad deny.

Since his ousting, the cricket hero-turned-prime-minister has faced dozens of lawsuits filed by authorities, which he claims to be a ploy by the military to prevent his return to power.

The cipher case stems from charges Khan revealed a confidential diplomatic exchange between Washington and Islamabad for political gains. The deposed prime minister maintains the contents of the leaked, confidential exchange serves as evidence that the U.S. orchestrated the toppling of his government, and that he was bound to share the "foreign conspiracy" with his voters.

In early August, Khan was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison. He denies the charges. Although an appeals court later suspended his sentence and ordered his release on bail, Pakistani authorities have refused, citing other lawsuits against him.