Another Pakistani court on Monday ruled in defense of former prime minister Imran Khan, granting him protection from arrest as lawsuits against him mounted. Police have accused the ousted premier of inciting violence in several instances when his followers clashed with security forces this month.
Khan’s latest respite comes when a political crisis rocks Pakistan, pitting the former cricket star turned Islamist politician against the rule of his successor, Shahbaz Sharif, and erupting into violence on the streets.
Khan was ousted in a vote of no confidence in parliament last April. Since then, the 70-year-old opposition leader has had more than 100 lawsuits filed against him, including allegations of terrorism, incitement to violence and corruption while in office.
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He unsuccessfully campaigned for a snap election and claimed, without providing evidence, that there are numerous plots to assassinate him.
The Islamabad High Court ruled on Monday that Khan cannot be arrested – at least for another week – in seven separate cases in March 18 clashes between his followers and police outside a court in the Pakistani capital where Khan was due to appear on charges of corruption.
Khan’s supporters threw stones at officers and clashed with police, who fired tear gas and beat the crowd with batons. Islamabad police have since arrested nearly 400 Khan supporters over that and other incidents.
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When Khan arrived for his hearing and entered the Islamabad court on Monday under close surveillance, his bodyguards put up bulletproof shields around him to protect him. Police also arrested Khan’s personal photographer at the scene and several of Khan’s followers.
Footage distributed on social media showed police dragging, pushing and shoving detained Khan followers into a police truck parked near the courthouse. In their crackdown on Khan’s supporters, police last week also arrested Azhar Mashwani, the head of Khan’s social media team, and others.
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Monday’s ruling echoed those of a court in the eastern city of Lahore which recently granted several bail bonds to the former prime minister. Under Pakistani law, such judicial decisions protect a suspect from arrest.
Khan has mostly avoided court appearances since last November, when he was injured in a gun attack at a protest rally in eastern Punjab province. One of his supporters was killed and 13 were injured in that attack.