The arrest of former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Tuesday in Al-Qadir Trust corruption case triggered violent protests across the country with Punjab and Islamabad administrations imposing Section 144 to maintain the law and order situation.
The deposed premier was taken into custody by the Rangers from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) premises where he had gone to seek bail in multiple cases registered against him since he was ousted from power in April last year.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse Khan supporters in Karachi, Lahore, and Faisalabad, while protesters blocked roads in the capital Islamabad, Peshawar, and other cities.
The workers also damaged public property and set police vehicles on fire in Charsadda, Karachi, Lahore, and several other cities after the party called on supporters to "shut down Pakistan" over his arrest. PTI wrote on Twitter: "It’s your time, people of Pakistan. Khan has always stood for you, now its time to stand for him."
Previous attempts to arrest Khan from his Lahore home resulted in heavy clashes between his supporters and law enforcement personnel.
"Imran Khan is our red line. Even a scratch on him is not acceptable," said Hanif Khan, 42, a grocery store owner told AFP.
"We will sacrifice our lives, but we will free Imran Khan."
Khan faces dozens of charges since being ousted —analysts say successive Pakistan governments have used to silence their opponents.
He could be barred from holding public office if convicted, which would exclude him from elections scheduled for later this year.
Video broadcast on local TV channels showed Khan — who has had a pronounced limp since being shot during an assassination attempt last year — being manhandled by dozens of Rangers into an armoured car inside the IHC premises.
In a statement, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said a meeting of the central leadership and members of the emergency committee formed by the party chief has been convened to mull future course of action in view of the arrest.
The future course of action will be announced after assessing the situation, he added.
PTI leaders Saifullah Niazi, Azam Swati, Ijaz Chaudhary, Murad Saeed, Ali Amin, and Qureshi are part of the emergency committee.
Qureshi also condemned the “attack” on the IHC and the alleged torture of the party chief during the arrest. He slammed the law enforcers for taking Khan into custody during biometric verification and storming the court.
The senior party leader said the party would continue to fight a legal and political war with full determination.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said Khan had been arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the Al-Qadir Trust corruption case for embezzling Rs60 billion.
"This arrest is in accordance with the law," he said during a press conference.
"NAB is an independent body and not under government control."
In a tweet earlier, the interior minister categorically denied reports of inflicting torture on PTI Chairman Khan during his arrest.
"No sort of torture was inflicted on him [Khan]," the interior minister wrote on his official handle.
The former prime minister, along with his wife Bushra Bibi and other PTI leaders, is facing a NAB inquiry related to a settlement between the PTI government and a property tycoon, which reportedly caused a loss of 190 million pounds to the national exchequer.
As per the charges, Khan and other accused allegedly adjusted Rs50 billion — 190 million pounds at the time — sent by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) to the government.
They are also accused of getting undue benefit in the form of over 458 kanals of land at Mouza Bakrala, Sohawa, to establish Al Qadir University.
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