Pakistan’s ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan has arrived safely back at his Lahore residence after being freed on bail following days of nationwide protests over his arrest on corruption charges.
After the court granted him bail, Khan spent hours in the courthouse in the capital, Islamabad, as he and his legal team were locked in apparent negotiations over his exit.
As he headed to his home in the eastern city of Lahore, Khan put out a video statement from his vehicle saying the Islamabad police tried to keep him in the court through different tactics, and authorities allowed him to travel only when he threatened to tell the public he was being held there against his will.
Khan was taken by dozens of paramilitary troops and arrested during a routine court appearance on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court declared Khan’s arrest “unlawful” and instructed authorities to present him before the court the following day.
The ruling struck a blow to the government in a standoff that sparked days of rioting by Khan’s followers and raised the spectre of widespread unrest in the country.
His detention came just hours after he was rebuked by the powerful military, whom he again accused of being involved in an assassination attempt against him last year.
The 70-year-old former cricket star was arrested in what is known as the Al-Qadir Trust case. It concerns land Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi bought from property tycoon Malik Riaz for their Al-Qadir University Trust.
The National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency, alleged Khan’s government struck a deal with Riaz in a quid pro quo arrangement. His cabinet is accused of helping Riaz launder more than $239m while causing a loss to the national exchequer.
Khan has had dozens of cases registered against him in the past year – including corruption, terrorism, sedition and blasphemy – since he was removed in April last year. He denies all accusations, calling them politically motivated.
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.
Faisal Hussain Chaudhry, a lawyer for Khan, said on Friday that 10 senior leaders of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had been arrested.
‘No democracy in the army’
The interior minister has promised to rearrest Khan, who remains wildly popular ahead of elections set for October.
“There should not be any violation of a court order. But if there is a way to arrest Imran Khan … then it will definitely be done,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told private television channel Geo News.
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. On Friday, speaking to reporters inside the courtroom, 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 remains Pakistan’s most powerful institution, having ruled it directly for half its 75-year history through three coups.
The military has historically intervened, citing economic or political instability in the country. However, despite widespread fears about another intervention during months of tumult, the military said it stood by the democratic process.
“The army’s senior leadership, the chief of army staff, places its complete trust in democracy. There is no question of martial law,” chief military spokesman Major-General Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry told Geo.