ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) ordered on Saturday night the release of former human rights minister Shireen Mazari, a close aide of ex-Prime Minister Khan, who was arrested by Punjab anti-corruption police earlier in the day.
Mazari was produced before the court at 11:30 p.m., when the IHC reopened outside its usual working hours, after a petition filed by her daughter against the arrest.
Thanking the IHC chief justice for her release, Mazari alleged the arrest was ordered by the government.
“Those who were taking me away, the anti-corruption (officials), they told me that they received orders. I said (Interior Minister) Rana Sanaullah? To which they said Rana Sanaullah and (PM) Shehbaz Sharif," Mazari said in a video shared by her Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party when she left the court.
Mazari, who was human rights minister from August 2018 till April 10, 2022, has recently been highly critical of Pakistan's all-powerful army, writing in daily social media posts about the military's alleged role in last month's ouster of Khan in a no-confidence vote. The army has repeatedly said it does not interfere in politics and urged media and political figures in at least two recent press releases not to drag the military into "political discourse."
Her daughter, Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir, said on Saturday afternoon that she was "beaten and taken away" by police. Local media widely reported that she was arrested from outside her residence in Islamabad.
"Male police officers have beaten and taken my mother away," Mazari-Hazir said on Twitter. "All I have been told is that Anti-Corruption Wing Lahore has taken her."
Hours after officials of the Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) confirmed to the Dawn daily that Mazari had been taken into custody, Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz ordered her immediate release.
"As a woman, Shireen Mazari should be respected," he said in a statement. "Following investigation, if the arrest is unavoidable then the law will find its way."
Mazari's arrest came at a time when ex-PM Khan's party is gearing up for an anti-government march to Islamabad to force the new government of PM Sharif to announce fresh election.
Khan, who last month became the first Pakistani prime minister to be ousted through a no-confidence vote, has blamed his removal on the United States. US officials have repeatedly denied the allegation. Khan and his supporters have also expressed resentment that the army did not block the opposition's bid to oust him.
Members of Khan's PTI party condemned Mazari's arrest and alleged manhandling by police.
"Strongly condemn the illegal and brutal kidnapping of Dr Shireen Mazari. She was manhandled and mistreated which is shameful," former education minister Shafqat Mehmood said on Twitter.
Shahbaz Gill, a Khan advisor, said Mazari is a "brave daughter of this nation."
"As a professor, most of the senior officers of our forces are her students. She has been teaching them," he tweeted.
"She is highly respected for her human rights services. The final phase has begun. God willing, truth and freedom will succeed."