Pakistan’s Supreme Court orders release of Imran Khan after his arrest sparks violence

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Islamabad: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the release of former prime minister Imran Khan, two days after his arrest sparked violence across the country.

Supreme Court chief justice Umar Ata Bandial on Thursday (Pakistan time) also asked Khan to issue an appeal to his supporters to remain peaceful, as the country faced growing turmoil in its streets.

Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan in 2022.Credit: AP

Around1600 of Khan supporters have been arrested around the country on charges of damaging public property and attacking military installations, bringing the total of those detained since Tuesday to 2300, according to the police.

The supporters of Khan were seen dancing near the court building to celebrate his release.

After being ousted from power in a no-confidence vote by lawmakers, Khan was faced with multiple corruption charges in Pakistani courts.

Earlier, while Khan was still in custody, Pakistani authorities cracked down on his supporters, detaining hundreds in overnight raids and sending troops across the country to rein in the wave of violence that followed his arrest earlier in the week.

For this nation accustomed to military takeovers, political crises and violence, the turmoil has been unprecedented. It echoed unrest that followed the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto during an election rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Her supporters at the time, outraged by her killing, rampaged for days across Pakistan.

Clashes with police since Khan’s dramatic arrest on Tuesday left at least 10 of his supporters dead and dozens injured, along with more than 200 policemen injured. Demonstrators burned down a railway station on the outskirts of the capital, Islamabad, on Wednesday night. On Thursday, they clashed with police in neighbourhoods around Pakistan’s second-largest city, Lahore, setting fire to a police car and blocking a train.

Thousands of arrests followed mob attacks on government and military buildings, with protesters torching trucks, cars and police vehicles in the streets and blocking highways. In one incident hours after Khan’s arrest, a mob set fire on Tuesday to the sprawling residence of a top army commander in Lahore.

Khan was dragged from a courtroom in Islamabad where he showed up to face graft charges on Tuesday. He was then held at a police compound in Islamabad where, at a temporary court, a judge on Wednesday ordered the 70-year-old opposition leader detained for at least another eight days, raising the prospect of more unrest.

Police detain a supporter of Imran Khan in Lahore.Credit: K.M. Chaudary/AP Photo

After briefly hearing a petition from Khan’s lawyer, the Supreme Court on Thursday expressed displeasure over the manner in which Khan was arrested and ordered authorities to present him before it in an hour, raising speculation it would order him freed. Khan’s lawyer had sought his release, arguing that the arrest was illegal.

As police took Khan on Thursday to the Supreme Court amid tight security, the government demanded he remain in custody.

“It would be unfair if you give any reprieve to him,” Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb told a news conference, addressing the top court’s chief justice. She pointed to violence carried out by Khan’s followers, saying the court would be giving a “license to kill to everyone” if the former premier is freed.

Late on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled Khan’s arrest by the anti-graft agency was illegal and ordered for the ex-cricket star to be freed.

Separately on Thursday, police filed new terrorism charges against Khan and top leaders from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party on charges of inciting mobs to violence.

In an address to the nation late Wednesday, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif — who took over after Khan was removed in April last year in a no-confidence vote in Parliament — said the unrest by the former premier’s followers had “damaged sensitive public and private property,” forcing him to deploy the military in Islamabad, in Punjab – Pakistan’s most populous province – and in volatile regions of the northwest.

“Such scenes were never seen by the people of Pakistan,” Sharif said, following a cabinet meeting. “Even patients were taken out of ambulances and ambulances were set on fire.”

Sharif called the attacks “unforgivable,” and warned that those involved in violence would be given exemplary punishment. He said Khan was arrested because of his involvement in corruption, and that there was evidence backing up these charges.


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