Manzoor Pashteen, the face of the Pashtun Tahaffuz (Protection) Movement (PTM) in Pakistan has been arrested on Monday, January 27, for alleged criminal conspiracy and sedition along with nine others in Peshawar.
The Pashtun Protection Movement has drawn tens of thousands to rallies in cities around Pakistan where they accuse the army of human rights abuses.
Mr Pashteen, a charismatic former veterinary student who shot to prominence two years ago, has become the face of PTM, in a country where few openly challenge the military.
A fellow protest leader said he was being punished for simply demanding human rights. The powerful military, unused to criticism, denies wrongdoing.
Mr Pashteen has been accused of “hate speech” and sedition among other offences. The latter carries a possible life sentence.
He was remanded in police custody in Peshawar for 14 days but is expected to be taken to appear before a magistrate in Dera Ismail Khan, some 300km (186 miles) to the south, where charges against him have been filed.
His fellow protesters have demanded his immediate release. Another PTM leader, MP Mohsin Dawar, urged supporters to remain calm in response to the arrest.
This is the first time Manzoor Pashteen has been held, and why the authorities chose to detain him now is unclear.
The authorities have repeatedly arrested other PTM leaders and activists since the movement came to prominence. Last year Mohsin Dawar and his fellow PTM member of the National Assembly, Ali Wazir, were detained for four months after a deadly clash in Waziristan.
The non-violent protests of PTM began over the alleged extra-judicial killing of a young man of ethnic Pashtun heritage by police in Karachi.
The movement then expanded, demanding accountability from Pakistan’s army for alleged human rights abuses committed against Pashtuns during the war against Islamist extremists in the country’s north-west.
Pashtuns make up the majority of the population along the border with Afghanistan. The protests, which have at times drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators, have rattled the military.
A media blackout has ensured the PTM’s peaceful rallies stay off front pages and TV bulletins – although the movement has been successful in getting its message out via social media.
Many see the PTM as breaking new ground in the political landscape of a country where proxy wars have disenfranchised large populations not only in tribal areas and the north-west, but also in Balochistan and other parts of the country. (Source: BBC)