Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday (May 11th) overturned the arrest of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, which sparked violent protests across the country. “Your arrest is invalid, and the whole process needs to be reviewed”said Umar Ata Bandial, the president of the Supreme Court, who was considering an appeal filed by Mr. Khan’s lawyers against his arrest on Tuesday in a corruption case. “We will stop him again”immediately promised the Minister of the Interior, Rana Sanaullah, on a local channel.
Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Thursday called on Pakistani security forces to » restraint « and asked the demonstrators to « refrain from all violence ». “Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the rule of law are essential to resolving political disputes – disproportionate force has no place”he tweeted as arrests of supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan continue, following two days of violent protests sparked by his arrest.
The government gave the green light on Wednesday to send soldiers to the capital and two provinces, including Punjab, the most populous in Pakistan, to restore calm. Islamabad police said on Thursday that troops had been positioned overnight in the capital’s « red zone », which houses key government institutions. Authorities have cut off mobile internet, restricted access to social networks such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, and ordered the closure of schools across the country.
Thousands of protesters arrested
Mr Khan’s arrest marks a dramatic worsening of a crisis that has been brewing since his overthrow. Mr Khan, 70, who was ousted in April 2022 but remains popular and hopes to return to power soon, was remanded in custody for eight days by a special court in Islamabad on Wednesday in a corruption case. After months of political crisis that have seen him increasingly openly defy the all-powerful army, he was arrested on Tuesday in the capital, where he was responding to a summons to appear before a court in this case.
This arrest, which threatened the former cricket star for several weeks, aroused the indignation of supporters of his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Pakistan Movement for Justice), who demonstrated by the thousands and provoked clashes with the security forces. Rarely in Pakistan, they attacked symbols of military power, accusing the army of having contributed to the ousting of Mr. Khan from power, which the latter disputes.
At least nine people have died in incidents related to the protests, according to police and hospitals. Hundreds of police were injured and more than 2,000 protesters arrested, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, police said. At least eight senior PTI officials accused of orchestrating the violence have been detained, police said.