In a major relief for the embattled Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday declared the former prime minister’s dramatic arrest “illegal” and “void” and ordered his immediate release after he was brought to court on its orders.
Khan, 70, was arrested by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday and handed over to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) by an accountability court on Wednesday for an eight-day remand in connection with the Al-Qadir Trust corruption case.
His arrest sparked widespread protests across Pakistan, prompting the government to deploy the military in the national capital as well as in the provinces of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Violent protests left at least eight dead.
On Thursday, a three-judge bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Athar Minallah ordered his immediate release. Khan faces more than 120 cases across the country, including allegedly committing treason and blasphemy and inciting violence and terrorism.
The bench, hearing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman’s plea against his arrest, expressed anger over the way he was captured by the paramilitary Rangers and ordered the NAB to produce him.
Khan, who was ousted from power in April last year, was brought to court amid tight security. “Nice to see you,” Chief Justice Bandial told Khan.
After a brief hearing, the court declared that imran Khan’s arrest was “void” and “unlawful” and ordered that he be set free.
“The manner of execution of the warrant of arrest issued by the Chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) dated 01.05.2023 in the case of Al-Qadir Trust in the premises of the Islamabad High Court against the petitioner is invalid and illegal,” the ruling said. he said.
The court also directed him to go to the IHC on Friday and seek further legal action. “You will have to accept whatever the high court decides,” the chief justice said.
Bandial also said that it is the responsibility of every politician to ensure law and order. During the hearing, Khan told the court that he was “abducted from the court” as he prepared for biometric attendance before filing an appeal in the case.
Khan claimed that he was subjected to violence, saying that he was beaten with sticks and that such brutality was not inflicted even on criminals.
When the chief justice asked him to condemn the violence by the protesters, Khan distanced himself from the protests, saying he was in custody. “I was caught as if I were a terrorist,” he said, asking, “How am I responsible for the bloody protests?” He also said he never supported violence. “I appeal to everyone to avoid damaging public property,” Khan said, adding that he was just enforcing the election.
Soon after the Supreme Court’s verdict, enthusiastic supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf took to the streets.
“Imran Khan will stay in the guest house as a guest [and] his protection would be the responsibility of the government,” Bandial said. “You can relax there, chat with the visitors and go to sleep. The ruling vice-president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) reacted strongly to the verdict, saying that the chief justice should resign from his post and join Khan’s party like his mother-in-law.
Maryam claimed that the Chief Justice seemed overjoyed to meet the individual accused of embezzling Rs60 billion from the exchequer and was even more delighted to release the alleged criminal.
She subsequently accused the Chief Justice of being responsible for attacks on key and sensitive institutions in the country. She further said that the Chief Justice has become a shield for nothing (Khan) and is adding fuel to the fire.
The court said that no one can be arrested by the court without the permission of the court clerk. She stated that the arrest was tantamount to denying access to justice without fear and incitement, which was the right of every citizen.
Khan’s counsel Hamid Khan informed the court that his client had approached the IHC seeking anticipatory bail but was arrested by paramilitary Rangers.
The court also took note of about 90 to 100 Rangers who entered the court to arrest Khan. “What dignity will the court have when 90 people enter its premises? How can someone be arrested from a courthouse? asked the chief judge.
He noted that the National Accountability Office had committed “contempt of court”. “They should have taken permission from the court clerk before the arrest. Court staff were also subjected to abuse,” he said.
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