Former Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif was arrested on his return to the country Friday, where he faces 10 years in prison for corruption, ahead of already tense elections his party claims are being rigged.
Sharif and his daughter Maryam “have been arrested” by corruption authorities “with immediate effect and till further orders”, according to a statement from the Islamabad city administration. They landed in Lahore and were then taken to the capital, the statement said.
An anti-corruption official confirmed the arrests to AFP on condition of anonymity.
Sharif, who claims he is being targeted by the country’s powerful security establishment, is fighting for his political life as his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party limps into the final weeks of campaigning ahead of nationwide polls on July 25.
Some 15,000 singing and dancing supporters lined the Mall, Lahore’s main thoroughfare, ahead of Sharif’s return from London, an AFP reporter there said.
Lahore is the capital of Punjab province, Pakistan’s most populous and a PML-N stronghold.
A smaller contingent of around two dozen supporters waited on the road to Adiala prison in Rawalpindi, the garrison city neighbouring Islamabad, where Sharif was expected to be taken before going to a guest house on the outskirts of the capital which authorities said had been declared a “sub-jail”.
Roughly 100 police officers had blocked the road to the jail with freight containers, an AFP reporter said.
Analysts have said Sharif’s return — one week after he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison by a corruption court over the purchase of high-end properties in London — could help lift his party’s fortunes ahead of the vote.
“I know that… I will be directly taken to jail,” Sharif, who was ousted for corruption by the Supreme Court last year and later also banned from politics for life, said in a video released by his party earlier Friday.
He asked Pakistanis to “walk with me, join hands with me and change the destination of the country”.
On Thursday, Sharif’s brother Shahbaz, who is leading the PML-N’s election campaign, said hundreds of the party’s workers and supporters had been arrested in what he described as “naked” pre-poll rigging.