Islamabad, Pakistan – As the government cracks down on Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, supporters in Punjab province say authorities are targeting the businesses of people sympathetic to the former prime minister.
Hammad Azhar, a top PTI aide, told Al Jazeera that his family business, AFCO Steel Industries, was closed by police for more than a week.
“Both our headquarters and factory in Lahore were raided late on June 1. Police officers and a district officer arrived and sealed the premises with a handwritten note,” Azhar said on Wednesday.
He added that police harassed his staff when they closed down his company, one of Pakistan’s oldest steel mills, and refused to say why they did so.
“The authorities had no evidence or sealing orders, and yet they sealed our factory,” he said. “Fortunately, on June 7, after we filed a petition, the Lahore High Court gave us relief and ordered the authorities to reopen our factory.”
Khan’s arrest on May 9 sparked nationwide protests from his supporters. Thousands of PTI workers and party leaders have been arrested for vandalism and rioting at the rallies, and the government has promised to try those involved in military courts.
Many party supporters and workers have accused the police of raiding their homes and businesses as part of what they call a nationwide witch hunt designed to intimidate them.
Khan has repeatedly claimed that Pakistan’s powerful military establishment is trying to pressure his party members to “break” the PTI.
Since Khan’s arrest, police have conducted six raids on Azhar’s home to try and apprehend him as one of the alleged conspirators behind the May 9 violence. He said he had gone into hiding, but police detained his father for two hours on June 4.
A longtime party supporter from Sargodha, a city in the eastern Punjab province, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said on Wednesday that his family business in wedding halls was also shut down by police at the end of May.
“We have been running these wedding halls since 2018 and we have never had any problems in the past,” he told Al Jazeera. “This time, however, a few police officers came on May 31, and on some flimsy excuses of land control violations, they sealed the company.”
The PTI supporter, who is also in hiding, said that while police did not damage his wedding halls, they raided his residence, smashed doors and windows and arrested several of his domestic workers.
Amir Mir, the interim information minister for the Punjab province, confirmed that businesses across the region had been sealed but insisted only those violating the law were affected.
“These are routine matters and hundreds of sealing orders have been issued,” Mir told Al Jazeera, which declined to elaborate.
Another PTI supporter, who wished to remain anonymous, said his motorcycle showroom in the eastern city of Lahore was shut down by police late last month, costing him millions of rupees in revenue.
“Our showroom usually sells more than 400 motorcycles in a month, with the average price of one unit exceeding 240,000 rupees ($835). You can imagine how much business we are missing out on because of this closure,” he said, adding that he too is in hiding.
“More than 20 people, including police officers and some plainclothes people, came to my showroom on May 30. They gave no reason why the office was sealed. They took our laptops, took apart our cameras and left,” he told Al Jazeera by phone.
Government agencies have repeatedly denied targeting PTI supporters or their companies.
An official from the provincial commissioner’s office in Lahore, who asked not to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the province is currently cracking down on illegal encroachments.
Allegations that PTI supporters were targeted were baseless, he said.
“Last week we issued more than 200 sealing orders for breach of dengue-related matters and various other civil violations,” the official told Al Jazeera.
“To claim that this is an act of revenge against one political party or its supporters is completely baseless,” he said.