Criminal investigation opened against top PML N leaders, No arrests likely: Report

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Criminal investigation opened against top PML N leaders, No arrests likely: Report

*LAHORE - Authorities have opened a criminal investigation involving leaders of PML-N under an anti-terrorism law, 10 days before the election, said police documents.*

The case relates to the PML-N’s march on July 13, when Sharif returned to Pakistan. The party defied a ban on holding public rallies on a Friday. The former premier was arrested minutes after landing in the country after being sentenced in absentia by an anti-corruption court on July 6.

Copies of two separate First Information Reports (FIRs), which mark the formal opening of a criminal investigation, named PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif, who is Nawaz Sharif’s brother, and a number of other key figures. They include former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who replaced Sharif last year and served until June when the caretaker government took over.

The FIRs cite section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which has broad provisions defining terrorism to include creating public fear, and lists 10 alleged violations of ordinary criminal law, including unlawful assembly.

“We are taking action against PML-N leaders,” the caretaker home minister of Punjab, Shaukat Javed, told *Reuters* on Sunday. “But no one will be arrested before the elections.”

He said that including the terrorism charges was a “mistake” that would be corrected later.

Shehbaz Sharif led Friday’s march across Lahore, in which thousands of people took part, intending to send a message to rivals that the popular vote is still with the PML-N ahead of the July 25 election.

National polls indicate a close race between the PML-N and PTI, led by former cricket star Imran Khan, with the Pakistan Peoples Party in third place.

Sharif was removed from office by the Supreme Court last year and sentenced this month to 10 years in prison for corruption.

Musadik Malik, a senior PML-N official and member of the Senate, said the FIRs were part of a pattern that included pressuring candidates to change to PTI and corruption cases against other party leaders.

“This FIR is just another attempt of intimidation and political victimisation,” Malik said. He said the PML-N rally was overwhelmingly peaceful and any ban on gatherings so close to the election was unfair.