Pakistan: (Ex-PM) Imran Khan’s dramatic arrest at IHC triggers countrywide protests


ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan was arrested by Rangers paramilitary force at Islamabad High Court on Tuesday, in a dramatic move that threatens fresh turmoil in the country as protests erupted in multiple cities across Pakistan on his party’s call.

The former premier was arrested in the Al-Qadir Trust case, added the federal capital’s top cop. “Situation is normal. Section 144 is in place and violations will result in police action,” said IG Islamabad.

Video broadcast on local TV channels showed Khan – who has a pronounced limp since being shot during an assassination attempt last year – being manhandled by dozens of paramilitary rangers into an armoured car inside the Islamabad High Court premises.

“As we reached the court’s biometric room to mark the attendance, dozens of rangers attacked us,” said Ali Bukhari, a lawyer with Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

“They beat him and dragged him out,” he told AFP.

Khan’s arrest comes a day after the military warned him against making “baseless allegations” after he again accused a senior officer of plotting to kill him.

The rebuke late Monday underscored how far Khan’s relations have deteriorated with the military, which backed his rise to power in 2018 but withdrew its support ahead of a parliamentary vote of no confidence that ousted him last year.

Islamabad High Court (IHC) CJ Aamer Farooq has taken notice of the incident and has summoned IG Islamabad, the secretary interior and additional attorney general.

Justice Farooq directed to inform the court immediately about who was behind the arrest and in what case had the PTI chief been arrested in. The judge maintained that action will be taken, “even if it has to be taken against ministers”.

According to the IG Islamabad, Imran has been taken to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) office in Rawalpindi.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that the deposed premier did not appear in court despite notices for the case hearing of the land transfer of Al-Qadir Trust – for which Imran and his wife were presumably trustees.

“[The] NAB has arrested him for damaging the national treasury. No violence was done to them,” he added.

Khan will be brought before an anti-graft court on Wednesday.

The former premier was arrested from within the premises of the IHC where he had appeared for hearing of cases pertaining to inciting mutiny, and violence against PML-N leader Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha.

A Reuters witness said shortly after Imran entered the gate of the IHC, contingents of paramilitary forces and armoured personnel carriers entered after him.

The gate was blocked by the armoured vehicles while the ex-PM was whisked away shortly after under heavy security, the witness added.

PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry also said that the IHC was occupied by Rangers, “lawyers were being subjected to torture” and Imran’s car was surrounded.

On its official Twitter handle, the former ruling party claimed that the PTI chairman’s lawyer was “badly injured” inside the IHC premises during the arrest.

The case

In 2019, then prime minister Imran Khan had laid the foundation stone of the Al-Qadir University for Sufism in Sohawa, Jhelum district.

He was, however, accused of looting Rs50 billion of the national treasury, along with a property tycoon, and getting the Trust registered on 450-kanal.

Section 144 imposed in Islamabad

Meanwhile, Islamabad Capital Territory Administration has imposed section 144 in the territory, the police said on his official twitter handle.

The Islamabad Police have warned of strict action against anti-social elements for violating Section 144 imposed in the federal capital.

The police also advised the people to use alternate routes to reach their destinations.

It said that traffic congestion was observed between Koral and Khanna Bridge Stops at the Islamabad Expressway therefore Lehtrar Road and Peshawar Road can be used alternatively.

Besides, traffic was also interrupted near Faizabad interchange and has been diverted towards Murree Road.

For traffic interruptions near Saien Mirchu Darbar stop of Srinagar Highway, commuters can use Peshawar Road.

Protests erupt across Pakistan

Protests erupted across the country after PTI chief Imran Khan was arrested during a court appearance in the capital for one of dozens of cases pending since he was ousted last year.

His arrest follows months of political crisis and comes hours after the powerful military rebuked the former premier for alleging a senior officer had been involved in a plot to kill him.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse Khan’s supporters in Karachi and Lahore, while protesters blocked roads in the capital Islamabad, neighbouring Rawalpindi, and Peshawar.

Hundreds of supporters blocked streets in Khan’s home town of Lahore, where police have been put on high alert, as well as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Protesters also blocked a major road in the port city of Karachi, according to Reuters witnesses.

Senior PTI leader Ali Zaidi was taken into custody from Karachi’s Kala Pul area.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party called on supporters to “shut down Pakistan”.

“It’s your time, people of Pakistan. Khan has always stood for you, now it’s time to stand for him,” the PTI wrote on Twitter.

Previous attempts to arrest Khan from his Lahore home resulted in heavy clashes between his supporters and law enforcement personnel.

The PTI said it had called an emergency meeting of senior leaders to discuss their response to the arrest.

‘Democracy has been buried’

“The timing of the arrest is striking,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.

“The senior army leadership is uninterested in repairing the rift between itself and Khan, and so with this arrest it’s likely sending a message that the gloves are very much off.”

Anticipating his arrest, party officials later released a pre-recorded video by Khan in which he urged supporters to come out in support of “true freedom”.

“My Pakistanis, by the time these words reach you I would have been detained under an illegitimate case,” he says in the video.

“One thing should become clear for all of you from this is that fundamental rights in Pakistan, the rights given to us by our constitution and democracy, have been buried.”

The country is deeply mired in an economic and political crisis, with Imran Khan pressuring the struggling coalition government for early elections.

At a weekend rally in Lahore, Khan repeated claims that a senior intelligence officer was involved in an assassination attempt last year during which he was shot in the leg.

The military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) wing said in a statement that “this fabricated and malicious allegation is extremely unfortunate, deplorable and unacceptable”.

“This has been a consistent pattern for the last year wherein military and intelligence agencies officials are targeted with insinuations and sensational propaganda for the furtherance of political objectives,” it said.

ISPR said it reserved the right to “take legal course of action against patently false and mala fide statements and propaganda”.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif – whom Khan also alleged was involved in the assassination plot – weighed in on Twitter.

“His levelling of allegations without any proof against Gen Faisal Naseer and officers of our Intelligence Agency cannot be allowed and will not be tolerated,” he said.

‘Land fraud’

Addressing a news conference in Islamabad, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said Khan had been arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after he did not appear “despite notices”.

He said the charges against Khan were that he and his wife had received land worth up to 7 billion rupees ($24.70 million) from a land developer that had been charged with money laundering by British authorities.

He added that British authorities had returned 190 million pounds ($240 million) to Pakistan in connection with money laundering, which Khan then returned to the land developer instead of keeping it in the national exchequer.

Khan had denied wrongdoing.

Read more: ‘Imran arrested on merit’: Sana rubbishes claims of political victimisation

The NAB issued Khan’s arrest warrant on May 1, according to an order seen by Reuters. “Khan is accused of commission of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices,” it said.

The graft case is one of more than 100 registered against Khan since he was ousted from power in a parliamentary vote. He served four of his five-year term.

In most of the cases, Khan faces being barred from holding public office if convicted, with a national election scheduled for November.

Section 144 imposed across Punjab

The interim provincial government enforced Section 144 across Punjab on Tuesday for two days following the rising unrest after the arrest of Imran Khan in the Al-Qadir Trust case.

The PTI chairman’s arrest at the Islamabad High Court triggered countrywide protests, threatens fresh turmoil with multiple cities across Pakistan witnessing demonstrations on his party’s call.

The imposition of Section 144 is a response to escalating unrest and a measure to maintain law and order after reports of arson and violent protests from different parts of the province.

A notification was also issued by the interim provincial government for the imposition of Section 144 across the province.

The notification cited the reason for imposing Section 144 as the ongoing protests and rallies following the arrest of “a political leader”, which pose security threats, can disrupt traffic, and cause inconvenience to the public.

“There is also a history of terrorist activities in the rallies/protests, wherein, a number of police officials and civilians embraced shahadat. Hence, in the context of prevailing overall security situation in the wake of recent wave of terrorism & threat alerts, it has been necessary to impose Section 144 of Cr.P.C, 1898 on holding of aall kinds of assemblies, gatherings, sits-in, rallies, processions, demonstrations, jalsas, dharnas, protests, and similar activities across the province of Punjab to overt any untoward incident,” the provincial home department stated in the notification.

The order comes into effect immediately and will remain in force for two days, it added.

Internet restricted in parts of Pakistan

NetBlocks, an organisation that monitors internet freedom and access, released data confirming the disruption of major social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, on multiple internet providers in Pakistan.

The disruptions were accompanied by total internet shutdowns in some regions of the country. These incidents occurred amidst the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan, leading to concerns about censorship and the restriction of freedom of speech.

Real-time network data analyzed by NetBlocks revealed that the disruptions were in effect on certain mobile and fixed-line internet providers in the country at the time of writing.

PTI worker killed, six injured in Quetta

At least one Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) worker was killed and six others injured during a firing incident at a protest rally in Quetta.

Highly charged supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan blocked the main Quetta Airport Aoad to protest against his arrest.

“There was a firing incident inside the PTI rally,” a senior police officer told The Express Tribune, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

PTI Balochistan President Munir Baloch accused the police of firing on the protesters, demanding an investigation into the incident.

Enraged demonstrators burnt two police vehicles parked near the rally and pelted stones as police fired tear gas to disperse the highly charged supporters of the PTI chief.

Protesters also burnt tires on the main Airport Road Chowk, suspending traffic between Quetta and other parts of Balochistan. The protesters also blocked main national highways in Balochistan linking the country to neighbouring Iran and Afghanistan.

A Balochistan police spokesperson said that three police officers were also injured when protesters fired on them.

The Balochistan government has imposed Section 144 to maintain order.

‘Imran’s arrest legal’

The Islamabad High Court has declared that PTI chairman Imran Khan’s arrest from the court’s premises was carried out legally.

The order, which had been reserved earlier today by the high court, was read out by IHC chief Justice Aamer Farooq. The court also issued notices to the secretary interior and the inspector-general of Islamabad police for contempt of court.

The court also issued instructions to the registrar to lodge an FIR, and to submit a report on the inquiry by May 16.

The IHC chief justice had taken notice of the PTI chief’s arrest from the court’s premises earlier in the day and summoned IG Islamabad Police, the secretary interior and the additional attorney general.__Courtesy