Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has been arrested and dragged from court as he appeared to face charges in multiple corruption cases, sparking violent demonstrations by his supporters in almost all of the country’s major cities.
Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022 but remains the leading opposition figure.
He was removed from Islamabad High Court by security agents from the National Accountability Bureau, said Fawad Chaudhry, a senior official with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, and then shoved into an armoured car and driven away.
Mr Chaudhry denounced the arrest of the 71-year-old former cricket star as ‘an abduction’. Pakistan’s independent GEO TV broadcast video of Khan being hauled away.
A scuffle broke out between Khan supporters and police outside the court. Some of Khan’s lawyers and supporters were injured in the melee, as were several police, Mr Chaudhry said.
Imran Khan (seen in blue and white in the middle of a scrum of armoured police officers in Islamabad today) has been arrested and led away during a court hearing, dramatic footage shows, with his supporters claiming he is being tortured
Khan had posted a video (pictured) to his social media channels hours before his arrest today
Khan’s party complained to the court, which requested a police report explaining the charges for the arrest.
Khan was taken to the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, for questioning at the offices of the National Accountability Bureau, according to police and government officials.
He had arrived at Islamabad High Court from nearby Lahore, where he lives, to face charges in the corruption cases.
He has denounced the cases against him, which include terrorism charges, as a politically motivated plot by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, saying his removal was illegal and a western conspiracy. Khan has campaigned against Mr Sharif and demanded early elections.
Tuesday’s arrest was based on a new warrant from the National Accountability Bureau obtained last week in a separate case for which Khan had not been granted bail, making him vulnerable to be seized, and his lawyers have challenged the legality of the arrest. He is scheduled to appear at an anti-corruption tribunal on Wednesday, officials said.
‘Imran Khan has been arrested because he was being sought in a graft case,’ interior minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told a news conference.
He alleged Pakistan’s treasury had lost millions of dollars while Khan was in office due to illegal purchases of lands from a business tycoon.
At a news conference, law minister Azam Tarar said Khan was arrested because he was not cooperating with the investigations. He also denounced the violence by Khan supporters, saying protests must remain peaceful.
‘It should have not happened,’ he said, shortly after TV video emerged of burning vehicles and damaged public property in parts of the country.
Authorities said they have banned rallies in the eastern province of Punjab.
As the news of the arrest spread, about 4,000 Khan supporters stormed the official residence of the top regional commander in Lahore, smashing windows and doors, damaging furniture and staging a sit-in as troops retreated to avoid violence. The protesters also burned police vehicles and blocked key roads.
Imran Khan’s lawyer received medical attention for his injuries amid the arrest of the former prime minister at a court in Islamabad today
Security personnel escort Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan (centre) sitting on a wheelchair at the high court in Islamabad on May 9
Private security personnel with bulletproof shields escort former Prime Minister Imran Khan as he arrives to appear in a court, in Islamabad, Pakistan, on May 9
Security personnel use bullet proof shields to protect Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan as he arrives at the high court in Islamabad on May 9
Security personnel stand guard as Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives at the high court in Islamabad on May 9
Protesters also smashed the main gate of the army’s headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where troops exercised restraint. Hundreds of demonstrators shouted pro-Khan slogans as they moved towards the sprawling building.
In Karachi, police swung batons and fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Khan supporters who had gathered on a key road.
Raoof Hasan, another leader from Khan’s party, told Al Jazeera English television that the arrest was ‘blatant interference in the judicial affairs by the powers-that-be’. He added that Khan ‘was virtually abducted from the court of law’.
Khan’s arrest came hours after he issued a video message before heading to Islamabad, saying he was ‘mentally prepared’ for arrest.
Pictured: Security personnel escort a car carrying Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan as he arrives at the high court in Islamabad on May 9
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party activists and supporters of former Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran stand amid teargas fired by police during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Karachi on May 9
A Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party activist and supporter of former Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran holds a burning tyre and and party flag during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Multan on May 9
Khan (pictured last year) was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April last year. He has claimed his ouster was illegal and a Western conspiracy and has campaigned against the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, demanding early elections
Khan was wounded by a gunman at a rally in November in an attack that killed one of his supporters and wounded 13.
He has insisted, without offering any evidence, that there is a plot to assassinate him, alleging that Pakistan’s spy agency was behind the conspiracy.
The gunman was immediately arrested and police later released a video of him in custody, allegedly saying he had acted alone.
In a strongly worded statement on Monday, the military accused Khan of ‘fabricated and malicious allegations’ about its involvement in the November shooting, saying they are ‘extremely unfortunate, deplorable and unacceptable’.
The military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of the 75 years since the country gained independence from British colonial rule, and wields considerable power over civilian governments.
Mr Sharif, whose government faces spiralling economic woes, condemned Khan for criticising the military.
‘Let this be abundantly clear that you, as former prime minister, currently on trial for corruption, are claiming legitimacy to overturn the legal and political system,’ Mr Sharif tweeted after Khan’s arrest.