A two-member bench of the Islamabad High Court on Friday granted bail to the country’s main opposition leader after his arrest by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption agency.
The chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was arrested on Tuesday from the premises of the same court.
On Thursday evening, the Supreme Court declared Khan’s arrest “unlawful” and instructed authorities to present Khan before the Islamabad High Court on Friday.
Khan’s bail plea in the al-Qadir Trust case was scheduled to be heard on Friday morning, but it was delayed for nearly four hours with a prayer break in between.
The cricketer-turned-politician has been charged in more than 100 cases – including corruption, “terrorism” and blasphemy – since his removal from power last year in a parliamentary no-confidence vote.
The Al-Qadir Trust case concerns land that Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi bought from property tycoon Malik Riaz for their Al-Qadir University Trust to build an educational institute. The NAB has alleged that Khan’s PTI government struck a deal with Riaz in a quid pro quid arrangement in which it is accused of helping Riaz launder more than $239m while causing a loss to the national exchequer.
While waiting for the resumption of his high court hearing, Khan told reporters he had been “abducted” from the court premises on Tuesday.
“I was sitting in the high court. They had no reason to arrest me. I was abducted from here. And when I was taken away, only then I was shown the warrant for arrest,” the 70-year-old stated.
“Is this the rule of jungle? And the military abducted me. Where is the police? Where is the law? It almost seems like martial law has been declared here,” Khan added.
The PTI says peaceful protests will continue until its leader Khan reaches a safe place shortly after he was granted bail.
“All party organisations will offer funeral prayers in absentia for the martyrs in their respective areas this evening,” the PTI posted on Twitter.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has stated that the PTI leadership is trying to push the country, which is already facing a myriad of challenges, towards destruction.
“The horrible role PTI leadership has played in bringing Pakistan to the brink of destruction, it has become a big question mark for the country,” the PM remarked during a cabinet meeting.
Sharif added the protests over the past couple of days could not be called “constitutional and democratic”.
“This is terrorism and anti-nationalism which cannot be accepted under any circumstances,” he continued.
Sharif has criticised what it called an “extraordinary intervention” of the country’s Supreme Court chief justice in the matter of Khan’s arrest on Tuesday – which the court declared illegal on Thursday.
“This is a shameful stain on the forehead of justice,” Sharif said, calling the top court for its “double standards.”
Reacting to the Islamabad High Court’s decision to grant bail to Khan, Federal Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah says such a ruling had never been issued before.
“There is no precedent of such a verdict given to anybody. However, court orders will not be violated,” he stated, while speaking to a private news channel.
Sanaullah added the government will appeal to cancel Khan’s bail will give him no concessions.
Moreover, he said on the issue of internet restrictions in the country, saying the government had planned to shut it off for two to three days – but will consult Sharif on future steps to potentially restore it.
Khan’s arrest sparked deadly countrywide protests, which saw his supporters fight with police and paramilitary forces. Angry crowds in several cities stormed public and private buildings, including military installations, and set many of them on fire.
At least 11 people are reported to have been killed in this week’s protests and dozens injured. Authorities said they have made more than 2,500 arrests, including top PTI leaders.
To restore order, the government deployed the military in Islamabad as well as in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces – both strongholds of Khan’s party.
Mobile internet access has been down for days across the country to curb the protests while social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been blocked on government orders.
The government on Thursday promised to rearrest Khan if he was provided relief by the Islamabad court.
“We will arrest him again. If he gets bail from the high court tomorrow [Friday], we will wait for the cancellation of bail and arrest him again,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told a private TV channel.