Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Pakistan top court orders release of ex-PM Imran Khan

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ruled the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan to be illegal and ordered his immediate release.

The top court’s order on Thursday came after Khan’s legal team challenged his arrest by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in a corruption case on Tuesday, triggering violent protests across the country and prompting the government to call out the army to help restore order.

Supreme Court chief justice Umar Ata Bandial also asked Khan to issue an appeal to his supporters to remain peaceful, as the country faced growing turmoil in its streets.

Authorities have also arrested at least three senior leaders of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party as of Thursday, including a former foreign minister in his cabinet during his premiership between 2018 and 2022.

A total of nearly 2,500 people have been arrested so far and at least 11 killed and dozens injured after Khan’s supporters clashed with police in several cities.

PTI supporters have attacked military establishments and set other state buildings and assets ablaze.

Tensions remained high on Thursday with paramilitary troops and police on the streets in big cities.

Footage shared by an Islamabad police official showed military vehicles with mounted guns lined up on the side of a road and soldiers holding assault rifles.

Mobile data services remained suspended and schools and offices were closed in two of Pakistan’s four provinces. Social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram have been blocked.

The action against Khan, 70, a cricket hero-turned-politician and Pakistan’s most popular leader according to polls, has aggravated instability in the nuclear-armed country of 220 million people that is grappling with a severe economic crisis.

Khan, currently on an eight-day NAB remand, was also indicted on Wednesday in another corruption case in which he is accused of illegally selling state gifts during his tenure as the prime minister.

More than 100 police cases have been registered against Khan by the government since his removal from power in April 2022 after he lost a confidence vote in parliament.

Meanwhile, rights groups have urged Pakistan to show restraint in dealing with the protests and restore internet.

“The Pakistani government should uphold the right to peaceful protest while responding to violence with the minimum force needed,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Thursday.

Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi, who is also a senior PTI leader, stated on Thursday he was “alarmed, shocked and deeply disturbed” over the situation in the country.

“Protest is a constitutional right of every citizen of Pakistan but should always remain within the bounds of the law. The way some miscreants have damaged public property, particularly government and military buildings, is condemnable,” the president added.

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