Pakistani authorities on Wednesday freed hunger-striking cricket legend Imran Khan from prison, where he has been detained for the last week under anti-terrorism laws, jail officials said.
“We have released Imran Khan on the instructions of the provincial government,” Sheikh Inamur Rehman, superintendent of Dera Ghazi Khan prison in central Punjab province, said.
“I personally saw him off at the prison gate,” he said, adding that Khan was released at 7.45pm local time.
Khan was detained last week and charged under anti-terrorism laws after he tried to lead a student protest in Lahore against a state of emergency imposed by President Pervez Musharraf. He began a hunger strike on Monday.
“Imran Khan has been released,” the inspector general of Punjab police, Sarfraz Mufti, said in Lahore.
Khan’s sister, Allema, earlier said Khan had stopped drinking water and that he was increasingly weak on the third day of his hunger strike.
Officials said Khan would be among more than 250 prisoners being released in Punjab, the most populous of Pakistan’s four provinces and the country’s political heartland.
“This is a goodwill gesture from the interim government because it wants to give a level playing field to all political parties before the election campaign gets under way,” a senior provincial government official said.
Caretaker governments took power in Pakistan’s provinces on Monday to prepare for national and provincial elections on January 8.
“The Punjab government is also going to offer Imran official transport to return to Lahore,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities have released more than 5 000 lawyers, political workers and rights activists who were arrested under emergency rule, an aide to the law minister said on Wednesday.
A total of 5 757 people have been detained since President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on November 3, said Sarwar Hayat, an aide to acting Law Minister Afzal Haider.
“[A total of] 5 134 people have been released up to 7pm [local time] today [Wednesday],” he said.
Of the remaining 623, he said 202 were lawyers while 421 were either students or political workers.
“Their release is also under consideration and it is expected that they would be freed in a few days,” he added. — AFP