The Supreme Court of Pakistan has ruled that the detention of the former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, was illegal and has ordered for his immediate release. The court has also directed that Khan be kept under police protection at the Police Lines compound in Islamabad, where he has been detained since his arrest on Tuesday.
The Supreme Court Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial has instructed Khan to seek relief from the Islamabad High Court regarding the issue of Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau’s arrest warrant and emphasised that Khan must accept the decision of the court in this regard. Bandial has appealed to Imran Khan to request his supporters to remain peaceful, as the country has been witnessing an escalation in street unrest.
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Khan’s legal team had challenged his arrest by the National Accountability Bureau in a corruption case on Tuesday, which led to violent protests across the country and prompted the government to deploy the army to restore order. Khan’s supporters were seen celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision near the court building, and many were planning to gather in various cities to celebrate the ruling, according to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
In addition, authorities have arrested at least three senior leaders of Khan’s party, including a former foreign minister in his cabinet during his premiership between 2018 and 2022.
Political turmoil deepens
As per the latest reports, the clashes between Imran Khan’s supporters and the police in various cities have resulted in the arrest of nearly 2,500 individuals, with at least 11 fatalities and several dozen injuries. The supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have also targeted military establishments, set fire to state buildings, and destroyed other assets. The security forces, including paramilitary troops and police, have maintained a strong presence on the streets in major cities. An Islamabad police official has shared a video showing military vehicles with mounted guns and soldiers armed with assault rifles lined up along the roadside.
Mobile data services remained suspended, and schools and offices were closed in two of Pakistan’s four provinces, while social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram were blocked. The arrest of Imran Khan, who is Pakistan’s most popular leader according to polls, has aggravated the instability in the country, which is grappling with a severe economic crisis.
In a statement on Thursday, Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, urged the Pakistani government to uphold the right to peaceful protest while responding to violence with the minimum force necessary. Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi, who is also a senior PTI leader, expressed his concern over the situation in the country, saying he was “alarmed, shocked and deeply disturbed.” While he acknowledged that protest is a constitutional right, he emphasised that it should always remain within the bounds of the law, and that damaging public property, especially government and military buildings, is condemnable.
Reason behind Imran Khan’s detention
The 70-year-old opposition leader was indicted and remanded in custody for eight days after a hearing was held in a court temporarily relocated to a police guest house in Islamabad. Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who still holds massive popularity as the country’s leading opposition figure, has become the seventh former Prime Minister to be arrested in the country.
Since his removal from office through a parliamentary no-confidence vote, he has been implicated in over 100 cases, including corruption, terrorism, and blasphemy. He was arrested on Tuesday in connection with the Al-Qadir Trust case, which was initiated last year by the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has accused Khan of corruption related to the trust. Police have since arrested over 1,000 people in connection with the protests.
In June of last year, the Pakistani government accused former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi of acquiring land worth billions of rupees from prominent property tycoon Malik Riaz for the Al-Qadir University Trust, which they lead, in exchange for a quid pro quo agreement.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) alleged that Khan’s PTI government aided Riaz in laundering more than $239 million and caused a loss to the national treasury. These allegations are related to the Al-Qadir Trust case that led to Khan’s recent arrest and indictment on corruption charges, which sparked widespread protests and unrest across Pakistan.
The government accused Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi of obtaining land worth billions of rupees from property tycoon Malik Riaz to build an educational institute. The government alleged that Khan’s PTI government helped Riaz launder more than $239 million and caused a loss to the national exchequer. Clashes and rioting broke out in all major cities across the country following Khan’s arrest and resumed on Thursday as he was presented in court.
In response to Imran Khan’s arrest, supporters of his political party, PTI, have taken to the streets in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and other cities across Pakistan. The government requested that the army be deployed to handle the protests, and as a result, social media platforms were restricted, and mobile broadband services were also disrupted.
Imran Khan’s detention triggered widespread protests across Pakistan
Pakistanis are known for their hyperbole, especially when it comes to politics, but the recent events following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan from the Islamabad High Court premises were truly unprecedented. Angry protesters targeted the symbols and strongholds of the powerful military establishment, which had historically been off-limits even to the most furious mobs. For instance, protesters ransacked the official residence of the Lahore corps commander, piled furniture onto the lawn before setting it ablaze, and even walked away with paintings and golf clubs.
Additionally, a crowd, led by a woman, shook the gates of the nerve centre of the military in the garrison town of Rawalpindi without initial resistance from the security forces, leading many to question whether the protesters were allowed to wreak havoc to justify a crackdown on Khan’s party. Although some PTI leaders distanced themselves from the violence, others attributed the lack of resistance to a possible split in the military ranks, but there is no concrete evidence to support this theory.
The aftermath of Imran Khan’s arrest witnessed violence and destruction in various parts of Pakistan, with public buildings, buses, and toll booths being set ablaze, and at least one school completely destroyed. The protesters and security forces clashed violently, resulting in numerous casualties and injuries on both sides. Furthermore, there have been reports of senior members of Khan’s political party, PTI, being arrested as part of the ongoing crackdown.
However, it is challenging to verify many claims as electronic and social media remain blocked. Just two years ago, the PTI and the military establishment had an unbreakable bond, and political opponents faced arrests and crackdowns similar to those faced by Khan and his party today.