Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan arrived at his Lahore residence on Saturday after being freed on bail following days of legal drama and nationwide riots over his arrest on corruption charges.
Khan was swooped on by dozens of paramilitary troops and arrested during a routine court appearance on Tuesday, triggering violent clashes in several cities between his supporters and security forces.
His detention came just hours after he was rebuked by the powerful military, whom he once again accused of being involved in an assassination attempt against him last year.
The arrest on court premises as he prepared to file a bail application was declared unlawful on Thursday by the Supreme Court, which kept Khan in custody until Friday — when he was granted two weeks’ bail in the corruption case.
Islamabad High Court also ordered Khan could not be arrested before Monday in any case.
Khan has become entangled in a slew of legal allegations — a frequent hazard for opposition figures in Pakistan — since he was ousted from power in April last year.
“The head of the country’s largest party was abducted, kidnapped from the high court, and in front of the entire nation,” Khan told AFP from the court building.
“They treated me like a terrorist, this had to have a reaction,” he said of the protests that followed.
– ‘Today is a victory’ –
Khan eventually left the heavily guarded court late Friday, hours after his hearings had ended and as protesters a few kilometres away clashed with police, who responded with tear gas. Shots were also fired towards officers, police said.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, the former cricket superstar reached his Lahore residence, where videos posted by his PTI party showed more than 100 supporters celebrating his release and throwing rose petals over his car.
“They keep trying to silence Khan and keep trying to put him behind bars. But Khan has proven that the one who stands with the truth always wins,” 21-year-old supporter Waqar Ahsan told AFP after Khan was granted bail.
Zuneira Shah, a 40-year-old mother of three, feared that “the establishment would keep coming for him”.
“Khan is threatening their decades of corruption so of course they will not sit still. It’s a long fight ahead, but today is a victory.”
– Thousands arrested –
Several thousand of his supporters have rampaged through cities in protest of Khan’s detention since Tuesday, setting fire to buildings, blocking roads and clashing with police outside military installations.
At least nine people died in the unrest, police and hospitals said.
Hundreds of police officers were injured and more than 4,000 people detained, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, according to authorities.
Faisal Hussain Chaudhry, a lawyer for Khan, said on Friday that 10 senior PTI leaders had been arrested.
The interior minister has vowed to re-arrest Khan, who remains wildly popular ahead of elections due in October.
“There should not be any violation of a court order. But if there is a way to arrest Imran Khan (within the bounds of) the court order, then it will definitely be done,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told private television channel Geo News on Friday.
Mobile data services and access to social media platforms including Facebook and YouTube, which were cut shortly after Khan’s arrest on Tuesday, were gradually being restored around the country.
Khan has launched an unprecedented campaign of defiance against the military, which independent analysts say helped him rise and fall from power.
Khan has accused the shaky coalition government of supplanting him in cahoots with top generals, and made explosive claims that they puppeteered a November assassination attempt that saw him shot in the leg as he campaigned for snap polls.
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 influence over domestic politics and foreign policy and has staged at least three coups and ruled for more than three decades.