Shehbaz Sharif falsely claims his government did not arrest or harass any political opponents
Several prominent PTI figures, political opponents of PDM, were arrested during PDM’s tenure
Claim: In a parliamentary speech, which was termed his ‘farewell address’ on 9 August 2023, former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif claimed that over the past 16 months, his PDM government did not incarcerate any political opponents or subject them to harassment.
Fact: The claim is misleading. Several prominent PTI figures, political opponents of PDM, were arrested during PDM’s tenure. Allegations of custodial torture of PTI leaders Shahbaz Gill and Fawad Chaudhry in August 2022 and January 2023, respectively, also constituted harassment of political opponents. Moreover, journalists who reported on sensitive issues such as the assets of former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa or the 9 May protest were also harassed, assaulted, or arrested by the authorities.
On 9 August 2023, Shehbaz Sharif delivered his last speech as the prime minister of Pakistan before the dissolution of the parliament and the formation of an interim government to oversee the upcoming federal elections. In his speech, he praised his government’s achievements in various sectors. He also claimed his government did not arrest any political opponents or critics, nor did the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or any government agency harass them.
Fact or Fiction?
A review of news reports and statements by human rights organisations reveals that Sharif’s claim is false. To verify his claim, we searched for terms such as “PTI leaders arrested”, “PDM government harassment”, and “journalists assaulted” through Google search and found several examples that contradict his claim.
During PDM’s tenure in 2022 and 2023, several prominent PTI figures, political opponents of PDM, were arrested on various charges ranging from corruption to treason. Those arrested include Fawad Chaudhry, Shahbaz Gill, Pervez Khattak, Asad Qaiser, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Shireen Mazari, and Yasmin Rashid.
We also found allegations of custodial torture of PTI leaders Shahbaz Gill and Fawad Chaudhry in August 2022 and January 2023, respectively. This treatment was condemned by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Furthermore, we found that journalists who reported on sensitive issues such as the assets of former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa or the May 9 protest against PDM were also harassed, assaulted, or arrested by the authorities. Through our Google search using the terms mentioned earlier, we also found research conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which mentioned some of the following examples.
Journalist Jahangir Hayat was assaulted by police who arrived at his home without a warrant and claimed he was wanted for serious crimes. He was punched in the face, breaking his teeth, and hit with an iron rod. His son and wife were also injured. Police later raided his home again while he took refuge at the Lahore Press Club. Hayat believes he was targeted for his critical reporting on PDM’s policies and performance.
Sarfraz Ahmed Khan, a deputy bureau chief of GNN, was harassed by police who visited his home about ten times during Sharif’s tenure and searched the premises. He was told he had an arrest warrant under the Anti-Terrorism Act after reporting on the May 9 protest against PDM. Khan said he was not involved in any unlawful activity and that he was being intimidated for his journalistic work.
Shahid Aslam, a freelance journalist, was arrested for allegedly using leaked data about the assets of former Pakistani Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa and his family in anonymous reporting for a news organisation called Fact Focus. However, Fact Focus and Aslam deny this relationship, though Soch Fact Check has not independently verified this.
On 9 August 2023, Geo News, one of the most popular news channels in Pakistan, uploaded a video clip of this section of Sharif’s speech to their X (formerly Twitter) account, without verifying the former prime minister’s claims.The video received more than 36,000 views, 300 retweets and 1,300 likes. Many X users also commented on the video supporting Sharif’s claim. This speech was also extensively covered by Dawn News, Urdu VoA, Aaj.tv, and BBC Urdu.
Conclusion: Shehbaz Sharif claimed in his farewell speech that his government did not arrest or harass any political opponents. This is false. Political opponents such as PTI leaders were arrested and tortured during PDM’s tenure. Journalists who reported on sensitive issues were also harassed or detained by the authorities.