London, the UK – A crowd of about 200 folks gathered exterior the Homes of Parliament in London on Sunday, waving placards together with inexperienced, black and crimson flags.
The mantra “Aaj nahi, to kub? [If not today, then when?]” echoed by means of loudspeakers throughout Westminster, whereas in style Pakistani songs performed within the background.
The rally was organised by members of Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a political social gathering arrange in 1996 by Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Involved members of the Pakistani diaspora united with the UK-based social gathering members of Khan’s group, calling free of charge and honest elections and a return to the rule of legislation.
Maliha*, a digital media specialist in her 30s, had by no means attended a political protest till Khan’s ousting from energy in April final yr.
Khan misplaced a no-confidence vote to his management after going through mounting strain over his overseas coverage, the declining economic system and a resurgence of the Pakistan Taliban armed group.
Maliha drove for greater than three hours from her residence in Cardiff, Wales to attend the protest.
“It’s the state of affairs in Pakistan for the time being, myself and others thought it was unjust and consider it’s a part of a foreign-backed drive to take away Khan Sahib [Sir Khan] from energy,” she informed Al Jazeera.
Khan’s supporters had been fast to take to the streets of Pakistan after he was ousted, adopted by his supporters overseas.
In Might this yr, Khan was arrested by Pakistan’s anti-corruption company.
Hundreds extra took to the streets, with Pakistani police arresting and detaining greater than 4,000 folks, together with journalists, in accordance with Human Rights Watch.
The military-backed authorities accused the protesters of attacking police and authorities buildings, in addition to army belongings and installations.
Khan has denied the accusations and has referred to as for an impartial inquiry.
“In his 26 years in politics, Khan Sahib has by no means referred to as for violence,” mentioned Maliha, “so guilty him for inciting what’s been taking place on the streets of Pakistan is unjust.”
Within the UK, peaceable protests are protected below the European Conference on Human Rights.
On Sunday, one protester mentioned: “Inside Pakistan, there is no such thing as a longer freedom of expression below the brand new regime – so it’s as much as the abroad Pakistanis to talk out … we’re the one ones who nonetheless have a voice.”
Maliha mentioned that the protesters needed the UK authorities to take motion.
“We should elevate our voices for the way forward for Pakistan, for the ladies who’ve been abused in detention by the present regime, for human rights violations and for the return to the rule of legislation,” she mentioned.
Maliha cited the UK authorities’s promise to advertise and shield democracy and human rights abroad as a part of its technique for worldwide improvement.
“Western democracies are all the time talking in regards to the rule of legislation, about girls’s rights, so why aren’t they serving to now?” she requested.
Shehryar Fazli, a London-based political analyst and creator, informed Al Jazeera that he didn’t see a big shift within the UK strategy in direction of the Pakistani army “with whom it enjoys fairly good relations”.
“I feel there will definitely be considerations expressed in regards to the situations for a free and honest election in October, however that mentioned, I don’t suppose the UK is concerned about rocking the boat an excessive amount of,” Fazli mentioned.
Intolerance for dissent
Whereas Khan supporters within Pakistan have been threatened, overwhelmed and detained, the military is reported to even be attacking relations of these demonstrating exterior of Pakistan.
“The way in which that they aim folks abroad suggests their tolerance for dissent has declined considerably,” mentioned Fazli.
In London, Sheikh Ahsan stood barely away from the remainder of the protesting crowd. The retired naval officer residing in Romford, Essex, informed Al Jazeera that his son in Lahore was detained three weeks in the past and assaulted by Pakistani police for supporting Khan.
“The nation is now owned by the military,” he mentioned, including that this has not deterred him from taking a stance.
“I’m right here to help Khan,” Ahsan mentioned. “We’re requesting for the regime to launch him and drop the false prices in opposition to him.”
Khan was launched on Might 12, however is going through greater than 100 corruption and “terrorism” prices.
He has been calling for early elections to problem the present authorities, one which he says has been funded by overseas powers.
Fazli prompt the army can be happy to disqualify Khan from the upcoming October elections.
“I don’t suppose they’d essentially wish to go additional with a long-term jail sentence. This might agitate his supporters as soon as once more,” he famous.
“I feel there’s a brand new tactic now. If we are able to’t break Imran Khan, break the rest of the party, which they’ve managed to do fairly efficiently,” Fazli mentioned.
Greater than 80 senior members of PTI have stop the social gathering in latest weeks.
The mass social gathering exodus, Fazli prompt, was probably coerced by means of types of intimidation whereas social gathering members had been in detention.
“There’s a file on everybody, particularly politicians. It’s most likely the risk – we are able to put you away for a lot of, a few years, or we are able to have an effect on your companies, seize your belongings, go after your households – or would you wish to bow out of politics utterly, or be part of the brand new social gathering we’re serving to usher into existence?”
If the PTI goes into the elections weaker this October, with no probability of successful the election, then elections will go forward, mentioned Fazli.
However Pakistani politics has all the time performed out in again rooms throughout London, the place political dissidents have discovered refuge and power because the creation of Pakistan 76 years in the past.