PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Tuesday lashed out at the government for trying to stop the party’s long march to Islamabad, asking the country’s judiciary and ‘neutrals’ to “do the right thing”.

He expressed these views while addressing a news conference in Peshawar, in which he pilloried the government and described its recent moves as “akin to what dictators do”.

His speech came a day after a police crackdown on his party workers, in which a number of workers were allegedly rounded up. A policeman was also martyred the same night in an operation in Lahore. The government and the PTI blame each other for the killing.

At the outset of his press conference, Imran said that this was a “defining moment for the country” which would decide its fate. He asserted that there was no difference between the “fascist government” and the military dictators of the past, saying that both used the same tactics.

He maintained that during the PTI government’s tenure, the then opposition was allowed to stage protests and long marches several times. “They marched several times with the purpose of ousting the government but did we resort to these methods?”

Imran lashed out at the government for conducting late-night raids in Lahore and for barging into the homes of innocent citizens. He questioned why the government was suddenly resorting to such tactics, calling on them to highlight any instance in the past where he had ever broken the law.

The PTI chairman said that the country was looking towards the judiciary, telling them that this was their “trial”. “The country is going to look at your decisions,” he said, asserting that the long march was a peaceful protest and the party’s democratic right.

He went on to say that the PTI had a right to stage a protest against the “imported conspiracy”. “Did we protest when Bilawal staged a long march? Did we arrest him? Fazlur Rehman also staged a march […] we said we would help them.”

Addressing the judiciary, he asked whether it would allow such harassment and raids to take place. “If you allow this, then the credibility of the judiciary will cease to exist. It would mean that there is no democracy in Pakistan.”

He then addressed the country’s bar associations, asking why they were not condemning the government’s actions. “I want to thank the lawyers [of the country] who are standing to protect the democracy of the country. But the bar associations that are not issuing condemnations, the nation is looking at you. Are you standing with [the government]?”

He asserted that “staying neutral” was no longer an option. “You have to decide which side you are on. God has not given us permission to walk in the middle, that means that you are helping the criminals.”

Addressing “those who call themselves neutral”, he said that they had taken an oath to protect the country’s independence and sovereignty. “You need to understand that the public is looking at you, and you will also be judged. You will be equally responsible if the country goes towards destruction.”

He asserted that the only solution going forward was to conduct early elections. “There is no other solution,” he said, expressing the fear that the country was headed down the path of Sri Lanka, which is currently in the throes of an economic crisis.

The government wasn’t interested in serving the country and only wanted to end their corruption cases. “Therefore, I want to give a message to everyone: Neutrals and lawyers, this is a defining moment.”

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