Supreme Court of Pakistan orders immediate release of Imran Khan

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has ordered the immediate release of Imran Khan, the former Pakistan cricketer and Prime Minister, from custody after declaring his arrest “unlawful” on Thursday. The Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Umar Ata Bandial, ordered Imran’s immediate release after the warrants through which he was arrested in Islamabad on Tuesday were also declared null and void.

Imran will now be transferred to a guesthouse at police headquarters in Islamabad, and he has been ordered to present himself to the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday, which had declared his arrest legal.

It marks a swift turnaround two days after Imran was arrested by the Pakistan Rangers, a paramilitary federal law enforcement corps, after he presented himself at the IHC for an unrelated case. At the time, he was arrested in relation to the Al Qadir University case, an institution he founded as prime minister in 2019 and where he remains chairman. The manner of the arrest, which saw Imran led away by scores of paramilitary police, led to severe criticism in Pakistan and elsewhere. According to Dawn, Imran alleged in the Supreme Court that the arrest had been violent, and he had been beaten with sticks.

Imran was being held by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and had been ordered by the IHC to be kept in physical remand for eight days. It was that decision that Imran appealed immediately, leading to the order of his release on Thursday. The decision does not represent an acquittal in this case – the release comes from the Supreme Court determining that the procedure of the arrest was improper.

Moments after Imran’s release, his supporters gathered outside the court to celebrate and chant slogans. His arrest had led to violent and deadly protests all across Pakistan, most notably in Lahore, where the Corps Commander’s House was ransacked and set alight. Clashes between the Pakistan military and supporters of Imran’s party, the PTI, continued throughout the past two days.

Mobile internet remains suspended throughout the country, and social-media sites have been blocked. Conservative estimates have the number of people killed at 12.

The current federal government in Pakistan, which replaced Imran’s government in April 2022 after a vote of no confidence, has often called for his arrest, as have several courts over the past year. There were two separate concerted attempts to arrest him from his residence in March, where police were thwarted by huge numbers of supporters gathered outside his residence to help him resist arrest. Several polls have shown Imran holding a clear lead as the most popular politician in the country, and he has accused the government of thwarting Pakistani citizens’ democratic rights by refusing to hold elections.

“They want to either arrest or disqualify me because they are scared [of the fact] that my party is one of the most popular in Pakistan’s history,” Imran Khan had told Al Jazeera in March, as attempts to arrest him from his residence in Lahore were underway. Last November, Imran suffered bullet wounds to his leg after an assassination attempt while he was leading a protest march in Wazirabad in Punjab.

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