Islamabad High Court grants ex-PM Imran Khan a 2-week reprieve from arrest in corruption case

ISLAMABAD: A High Court in Islamabad has granted former Prime Minister Imran Khan a two-week reprieve from his arrest in a corruption case and granted him bail.
Babar Awan, Khan’s lawyer, said the court issued its decision on Friday, a day after the country’s Supreme Court asked it to rule. He says Khan is now “a free man” and the decision was right.
The decision came after Khan returned to court over whether he will be protected from re-arrest or returned to custody – a move that has left the government and legions of Khan’s supporters on edge after days of clashes violent.
Imran Khan returned to court on Friday to hear whether he will be protected from re-arrest or returned to custody – a decision that has left the government and legions of Khan supporters on edge after days of violent clashes.
The 70-year-old popular opposition leader appeared in the same court from which he was dragged and arrested on Tuesday. The arrest sparked nationwide protests in which his supporters attacked military installations, burned vehicles and ambulances, and looted general stores in various parts of the country. The government responded with a crackdown, arresting nearly 3,000 people.
Friday’s hearing is part of a series of complex legal maneuvers.
On Thursday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that Khan’s arrest was unlawful, but then asked the Islamabad High Court – a lower court – to reconsider its initial decision to uphold the arrest.
The Supreme Court said it would respect the rulings of the Islamabad court on Friday.
In a brief initial court session in Islamabad on Friday, judges heard a request by Khan seeking protection from arrest for bribery. As Khan’s supporters in the courtroom sang, the judge adjourned for two hours. Outside, other supporters set fire to a police vehicle when security forces prevented them from approaching the courthouse.
The government said it would quickly arrest Khan if the High Court in Islamabad upheld its earlier ruling that the initial arrest was lawful. He could also be taken into custody on other charges if he receives protection in corruption cases, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.
The government argues that Khan’s release rewards and encourages mob violence. In court on Friday, Khan’s chief lawyer, Babar Awan, told reporters the government appeared adamant about the former prime minister’s arrest.
Khan’s arrest on Tuesday was a surprising and controversial move – officers from the National Accountability Office burst into the Islamabad High Court where Khan was attending a session on other charges and dragged him away, putting him in an armored vehicle. The Supreme Court ruled that the arrest was “invalid and unlawful” because it took place on court premises, violating Khan’s right to justice.
The ensuing violence left at least 10 Khan supporters dead. Dozens of protesters and more than 200 police officers were injured. Protesters torched trucks, cars and police vehicles and blocked highways. Nearly 3,000 supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party were arrested, including Khan’s MPs.
On Friday, Khan’s supporters resorted to violence again, torching a police vehicle not far from the court where he was appearing. The police prevented them from approaching the court.
The controversy surrounding Khan – a figure who inspires both vehement loyalty and furious opposition – threatens to open a deeper vein of unrest in a country that has seen multiple military takeovers and bouts of violence. The unrest echoed those following the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto at a campaign rally. His supporters at the time, outraged by his murder, went on a rampage for days across Pakistan.
Khan, a former cricket star turned Islamist politician, was ousted as prime minister last year by a vote of no confidence in parliament and now leads the opposition. He faces more than 100 court cases, most involving allegations that he incited violence and threatened police and government officials.
He also faces at least three corruption cases, including charges from the National Accountability Bureau that he accepted millions of dollars in assets in exchange for benefits from a real estate magnate. A new terrorism charge was filed against him on Thursday for allegedly inciting his supporters to violence after his arrest.
Following the Supreme Court’s release order on Thursday, Khan spent the night at a government guest house in Islamabad, where he met family and friends.
Pakistani President Arif Alvi also met him. Alvi tried to defuse tensions between Khan and Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government to avoid an escalation.
Speaking at a special Cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss developments, Sharif criticized the Supreme Court’s decision, saying there was a “genuine corruption case” against Khan, “but the judicial system has become a stone wall protecting it”.
As Sharif’s government faces political unrest amid a deepening economic crisis, it also faces militant attacks. Two soldiers were killed and three injured on Friday when insurgents attacked a security post in the town of Muslim Bagh in the southwestern province of Balochistan, according to the Pakistani army. He added that two insurgents were also killed in the exchange of fire.


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