Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been granted bail by the Islamabad High Court after his arrest on corruption charges this week sparked deadly clashes before being declared illegal.
Khan, 70, departed the court premises and was travelling towards his hometown of Lahore amid high security late on Friday, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Khan welcomed the court’s order and said the judiciary was Pakistan’s only protection against the “law of the jungle”.
“I expected this from our judiciary, because the only hope now left – the only thin line between a banana republic and a democracy is the judiciary,” he told journalists. “Otherwise there is no rule of law here. It is a complete law of the jungle.”
Speaking to reporters earlier inside the courtroom after being granted bail, Khan blamed the army’s commander, General Syed Asim Munir, for the situation in the country.
“It’s not the security institution; it is just one man, the army chief,” Khan said. “There is no democracy in the army. The army is getting maligned by what is happening right now in the country.”
“That one man is afraid that when I come to power, I will remove him from his positions, but I will do no such thing,” the opposition leader said.
— Hamza Azhar Salam (@HamzaAzhrSalam) May 12, 2023
The high court granted Khan two weeks bail and also ruled that Khan could not be arrested before Monday in any other case registered against him, including charges related to the violent riots ignited by his detention this week.
Khan has become entangled in a slew of legal allegations since he was removed from power in April last year by a no-confidence vote in parliament and then launched a defiant campaign against the military.
General elections are due no later than October, and the former cricket star has accused the shaky incumbent coalition government of ousting him in cahoots with top generals.
He has also made explosive claims that they masterminded a November assassination attempt, which saw him shot in the leg as he campaigned for snap polls.
Labyrinthine legal cases
Khan’s arrest under the orders of Pakistan’s top anti-corruption agency earlier this week triggered two days of chaos, with several thousand of his supporters rampaging through cities across the country in protest, setting fire to buildings and blocking roads.
At least nine people died in the unrest, police and hospitals said.
Hundreds of police officers were injured and more than 4,000 people arrested, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, according to authorities.
The government contended that Khan’s release rewards and encourages mob violence.
Khan was arrested in what is known as the Al-Qadir Trust case. It concerns land that Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi bought from property tycoon Malik Riaz for their Al-Qadir University Trust . The anti-corruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau, has alleged that Khan’s government struck a deal with Riaz in a quid pro quo arrangement in which it is accused of helping Riaz launder more than $239m while causing a loss to the national exchequer.
On Thursday, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said Khan’s arrest in the case was illegal because it took place on court premises, where Khan had intended to file a bail application.
“Your arrest was invalid, so the whole process needs to be backtracked,” he told Khan.
Khan remained in the bench’s custody overnight under police protection for his own safety until he arrived at the Islamabad High Court, where hundreds of security forces were deployed and nearby roads closed.
‘Country needs peace’
Islamabad Police had issued an emergency order banning all gatherings in the capital after Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party called for supporters to come together.
Faisal Hussain Chaudhry, a lawyer for Khan, told reporters that more arrests of senior PTI leaders overnight brought the total number to 10.
“The country needs peace, but such steps by the government are not helpful,” he said.
Despite the ruling on the legality of Khan’s arrest, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah refused to back down on Thursday.
“If [Khan] gets bail from the high court tomorrow, we will wait for the cancellation of bail and arrest him again,” Sanaullah told Dunya TV.
Khan was arrested after the army rebuked him for once again repeating allegations that it was involved in his assassination attempt.
Pakistani politicians have frequently been arrested and jailed since the country’s founding in 1947, but few have so directly challenged a military that holds significant influence over domestic politics and foreign policy, has staged at least three coups and ruled for more than three decades.
Abid Hussain contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.