Former prime minister Imran Khan escaped arrest on Sunday when Islamabad Police arrived at his Lahore residence with a court order to arrest him for his persistent absences from Toshakhana court hearings for exploiting his office to sell state items.
Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, has been embroiled in a series of scandals and controversies since his ousting from office in April of last year. Facing a multitude of trials, including charges of terrorism and corruption, the 70-year-old’s fall from grace has been nothing short of spectacular. In October, he was found guilty by the Pakistani election commission of illegally selling gifts from foreign dignitaries, including a costly Graff wristwatch that he acquired as prime minister at a discount from the state depository known as Toshakhana, and then selling for profits. This led to additional accusations being filed against him by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with an anti-corruption court. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader’s actions have been widely criticised, and his political future remains uncertain as his legal woes continue to mount.
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In a dramatic turn of events, a Pakistani court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against Imran Khan on Tuesday in connection to the Toshakhana case. However, Khan was granted bail in two other cases, much to the relief of his supporters who had gathered outside the court in large numbers. This latest twist in the ongoing legal battle against Imran Khan has once again raised questions about his political future and the impact that his legal troubles may have on his party, the PTI.
Why the arrest warrant was issued?
Imran, who is recovering from a gunshot wound sustained in an assassination attempt in Wazirabad last year, has missed three prosecution hearings at an Islamabad sessions court. While leading nationwide protests to demand an early election, he was shot and injured at one of the rallies. The Federal Bureau issued arrest warrants last week when Khan failed to appear despite multiple summonses. Imran stated on Sunday, in reference to his absence from the court and the gunshot incident, “They (the police) know there is a threat against my life,” adding that the courts did not provide adequate security.
When the Islamabad Police and their counterparts from the Punjab Police arrived at Imran’s residence, they saw a large group of PTI supporters and party leaders, and were informed that Imran was “unavailable.” After receiving confirmation from his legal counsel that Imran would appear in court on March 7, the police returned.
What are Islamabad police and Imran’s supporters saying?
The Islamabad Police stated in a series of tweets on Sunday that an operation to detain Imran was being conducted with the assistance of the Lahore Police. It said that the PTI leader was trying to “avoid” being arrested and that the police chief had “gone into Imran’s room, but he was not present there.” “Islamabad Police will transfer Imran Khan to Islamabad under their protection. Law is equal for all,” it stated, adding that individuals blocking the execution of court orders will be subject to legal punishment.
Following the looming threat of Imran Khan’s arrest, a large contingent of PTI workers assembled in Zaman Park. Fawad Chaudhry, an adviser to Imran, stated that he could not be detained since he had obtained protective bail from a high court. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, former foreign minister and vice chairman of the PTI, stated that there is no statement of “arrest” in the warrants as an Islamabad sessions court has summoned him to appear on March 7 in the Toshakhana case. Also, senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry and lawyer Azhar Siddique went to the Lahore High Court to ask for Imran’s protective bail, but they couldn’t file the petition because the registrar’s office staff was not there on Sunday. “Arrest of Imran Khan is our red line and we will not allow this,” PTI senior leader Shafqat Mahmood said. Azhar Siddique said that the PTI had filed three applications requesting protective bail in instances involving the Toshakhana and the vandalism of the Islamabad Court Complex. “The petitions have been accepted and fixed for hearing. All three petitions regarding Imran’s bail will be heard tomorrow morning at 9 am at the LHC,” Siddique said.
Imran lashes out at government leaders in fiery speech
Imran ended the hours-long mystery regarding his whereabouts by addressing a televised party gathering from his Zaman Park mansion shortly before 5 pm. Imran told the audience of PTI supporters that he had never “bowed before any man or institution, and will never let you do so as well”. Imran stated that he had invited the public to Zaman Park to honour their participation in the “Jail Bharo Tehreek” (court arrest movement). “I did not call you for my support but to thank you,” he added. He also said that “only a nation, not a group,” could confront the nation’s difficulties.
He launched a scathing attack on the government’s economic policies, claiming that the country’s economy had “sunk” and that record-high inflation is crushing the people. Khan criticised the government’s performance, calling it the “worst period” in Pakistan’s history. He also accused government officials of protecting their assets abroad and shielding themselves from prosecution with the help of former army chief, General (ret.) Qamar Javed Bajwa. The PTI leader reaffirmed his claim that “all those in power today” were responsible for the assassination attempt against him in Wazirabad, naming, in particular, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and an intelligence official.
PEMRA bans Imran’s speech from satellite TV channels
Pakistan’s electronic media regulator restricted satellite television channels from broadcasting live and recorded comments of the ousted prime minister with immediate effect after Imran made “provocative statements against state institutions.”
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) cited previous guidelines that instructed all licensees to “refrain from telecasting any content against state institutions.” According to the authorities, Khan’s speech was “levelling baseless allegations and spreading hate speech through his provocative statements against state institutions and officers which is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order and is likely to disturb public peace and tranquillity.” It said, “airing of hateful, slanderous, and unwarranted statements against state institutions is in sheer violation of Article 19 of the Constitution and a judgment of the Supreme Court”. The regulator also said that TV channels had shown this kind of content without using the time-delay mechanism properly, which is against the law and against the decisions of the superior courts. In addition, the regulatory body PEMRA has warned that the license of TV stations will be revoked if they fail to comply with the regulations.