Manzoor Pashteen, the civil rights leader who has criticized military operations in Pakistan’s northwestern Pashtun regions, has been arrested in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) said Pashteen was arrested along with several colleagues in an overnight raid in Tehkal, a neighborhood of Peshawar.
He was arrested ahead of planned protests by tribes and businessmen to demand compensation for losses suffered during military operations in Waziristan. The large region, divided into North and South Waziristan districts, was the scene of large-scale military operations against Pakistani Taliban groups since 2003.
“This is our punishment for demanding our rights in a peaceful and democratic manner,” lawmaker Mohsin Dawar, a senior PTM leader, wrote on Twitter. “Manzoor's arrest will only strengthen our resolve. We demand the immediate release of Manzoor Pashteen.”
The government has not commented on the arrest, but a copy of a police report circulating online accuses Pashteen of saying he rejects Pakistan’s “supreme law.” The report said he also used “insulting language” about the state during a January 18 meeting.
Pakistani media reports say Pashteen has been moved to a prison in Peshawar while a court in the city will hear his case on February 8.
His supporters, civil society, and global rights watchdogs, however, have rejected the charges against him.
“Manzoor Pashteen has been arbitrarily detained for exercising his human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Amnesty International’s South Asia office said in a tweet. “He must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
Pashteen’s arrest comes ahead of planned protests in Peshawar and the western city of Tank. Members of the Mehsuds, a Pashtun tribe, have planned a sit-in protest in Tank on January 27 to demand compensation for property damaged during the fighting in South Waziristan. An estimated half-million Mehsuds were displaced for many years following a large-scale military operation in their home region in 2009.
The traders of Miran Shah, the headquarters of North Waziristan, have also announced a sit-in protest to push the authorities to deliver on promises to compensate for losses of properties and businesses in a major military operation in 2014. Operation Zarb-e Azb, as the offensive was called, forced nearly 1 million North Waziristan residents to flee their homeland.
The PTM emerged in a protest in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, in 2018. It has attracted thousands to is noisy rallies across Pakistan to demand accountability for military operations in the country’s Pashtun regions, where tens of thousands were killed and millions displaced by militant attacks and Pakistani military operations since 2003.
Pashteen and other PTM leaders have faced arrests, court cases, travel bans, and accusations of treason from the military and pro-military politicians.
The authorities accuse the PTM of working on a foreign agenda by criticizing the army.