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Pakistan court orders release of Imran Khan after his arrest sparks nationwide deadly protests

Pakistan Imran Khan (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Pakistan Imran Khan (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the release of Imran Khan on Thursday, two days after his arrest sparked nationwide deadly protests and the government called in the army to help restore order.

Supreme Court chief justice Umar Ata Bandial said the former prime minister’s dramatic detention had been unlawful – but asked Mr Khan to urge his supporters to remain peaceful.

Supporters were seen dancing near the court building to celebrate Mr Khan’s release. After being ousted from power in a no-confidence vote by lawmakers, Mr Khan was faced with multiple corruption charges in Pakistani courts.

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 this week.

An accountability court in Islamabad sent Imran Khan to eight days in custody on Wednesday and the police arrested senior leaders of the former prime minister’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and PTI’s senior vice president Fawad Chaudhry were among those who were taken into custody. Just hours earlier, secretary general Asad Umar was also arrested.

Islamabad police confirmed that other PTI leaders, including Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, Falak Naz Chitrali, Mussarat Jamshed Cheema, and Maleeka Bukhari, were also taken into custody.

Local reports said that at least 10 people were killed and about 300 injured in protests that started on Tuesday after Mr Khan, PTI’s chair, was arrested from the Islamabad High Court.

Demonstrators burned down a railway station on the outskirts of Islamabad. They clashed with the police in neighbourhoods around Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, setting fire to a police car and blocking a train.

Mr Khan was dragged from a courtroom in Islamabad where he showed up to face graft charges on Tuesday. He is now being 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.

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

“If an individual surrendered to the court, then what does arresting them mean?” the Chief Justice said. The court reportedly said Mr Khan’s arrest in the Al-Qadir Trust case was “unlawfull”.

“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 Mr Khan’s followers, saying the court would be giving a “license to kill to everyone” if the former premier is freed.Police on Thursday filed new terrorism charges against Mr Khan and top leaders from PTI on charges of inciting mobs to violence.Foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the late Benazir Bhutto’s son, urged Mr Khan’s followers to end the violence but stressed that peaceful protests are their right. “What has happened, has happened. Don’t make things more difficult for yourself,” he said.The military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of the 75 years since the country gained independence from British colonial rule and wields considerable power over civilian governments.

(With additional inputs from agencies)