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Pakistan frees Imran Khan associate even as authorities plan to prosecute thousands of his followers

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani court on Monday ordered the release of an associate of former Prime Minister Imran Khan from detention, even as authorities press on with efforts to prosecute thousands of his followers implicated in recent anti-government violence.

Shireen Mazari, who served as rights minister under Khan during his 2018-2022 term in office, was arrested last Thursday in the capital, Islamabad, on charges of inciting people to violence.

She has been a vocal critic of Pakistan’s military and the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who replaced Khan after his ouster in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April 2022.

Mazari’s daughter, Imaan Mazari, had petitioned a high court, arguing that her mother’s arrest was unlawful. She said the Lahore High Court ordered her mother’s release on Monday but that she was still at the detention facility in Rawalpindi.

It remained unclear when Shireen Mazari who actually walk free. She had also been arrested earlier in May and later released by a high court in Islamabad, and has several legal cases pending against her.

The development is the latest in the political drama that has engulfed Pakistan following Khan’s arrest, which triggered days of protests and violence unseen in years. Ten of Khan’s supporters were killed in clashes with the police.

Followers of the popular opposition leader attacked security forces and torched government and military property. Troops were deployed to contain the violence, which subsided only after Khan was released.

Khan has since then dialed down his anti-government campaign, denouncing the violence and demanding an independent probe to determine who was behind the turmoil.

Sharif’s government, meanwhile, has arrested over the past two weeks nearly 4,000 supporters of Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf opposition party. It has also pledged to prosecute all those involved in the attacks on military and public property.

On Sunday, Sharif said those linked to attacks on the military installations will be tried by the military courts.

A former cricket star turned Islamist politician, Khan has claimed that his ouster was part of a plot by the United States and Sharif, aided by Pakistan’s military — claims that all three have denied.

Khan says he is currently facing nearly 150 legal cases against him, and fears another arrest Tuesday, when he is to appear before the National Accountability Authority in Islamabad to answer questions in connection with a graft case.

Munir Ahmed, The Associated Press