ISLAMABAD: A Pakistan judge dropped an arrest warrant against former prime minister Imran Khan on Saturday (Mar 18), his lawyers said, after the ex-cricket star, who had skipped several hearings, travelled to court.
The 70-year-old has been tangled in a slew of court cases since he was ousted in a no-confidence motion last year and has been pressuring the fragile coalition government, which replaced him, to hold early elections.
Earlier this week, Khan’s supporters fought pitched battles with police sent to arrest him in the eastern city of Lahore after he failed to appear in court over graft charges, citing security concerns.
“The court has cancelled the arrest warrant after marking Imran Khan’s attendance. The hearing has been adjourned till March 30,” one of Khan’s lawyers, Gohar Khan, told AFP.
Khan, in office from 2018 to 2022, is facing a spate of legal challenges, including one that prompted a failed attempt to arrest him on Tuesday.
He was to address charges in court on Saturday of unlawfully selling state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while in office.
Khan says he followed legal procedures in acquiring the gifts.
The 70-year-old reached the capital on Saturday afternoon and was on his way to the court in a motorcade surrounded by supporters.
After days of legal wrangling, Khan travelled more than 300 km from Lahore to the Islamabad court complex, but was unable to get out of the car.
Around 4,000 supporters mobbed the complex, pelting stones and throwing bricks at police officers who fired back with tear gas.
The court however accepted Khan’s attendance, his lawyers said.
Islamabad’s police chief told local broadcaster Geo News that Khan’s supporters had attacked police near the court and fired tear gas shells, prompting police to fire more tear gas back.
Khan has led nationwide protests since his ouster from power last year and has had a spate of cases registered against him.
The police chief for Punjab province, Usman Anwar, told a media conference in Lahore that officers went to Khan’s house on Saturday to intercept people who had been involved in earlier clashes with police and had arrested 61 people, including for throwing petrol bombs.
Earlier this week, police and Khan’s supporters clashed outside his home during the arrest attempt.
Hours before leaving his home, the former cricket star told Reuters he has formed a committee to lead his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), if he is arrested.
Khan, who was shot and wounded while campaigning in November, said in the interview the threat to his life is greater than before and asserted – without providing evidence – that his political opponents and the military want to block him from standing in elections later this year.
The military and government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has denied being behind the cases against Khan. The military – which has an outsized role in Pakistan, having ruled the country for nearly half of its 75-year history – has said it remains neutral towards politics.
GOVERNMENT “INTENDS TO ARREST ME”
The court has previously issued arrest warrants for Khan in the case as he had failed to appear on previous hearings despite summonses.
On his assurance that he would appear on Saturday, the court granted Khan protection against arrest, but he said he feared the police and government planned to take him into custody.
Some 4,000 security officials including elite police commandos, anti-terrorism squads and paramilitary rangers have been deployed around Islamabad with hospitals put on high alert.
“It is now clear that, despite having gotten bail in all my cases, the (Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition) government intends to arrest me. Despite knowing their mala fide intentions, I am proceeding to Islamabad & the court because I believe in rule of law,” Khan said on Twitter.
“It is also obvious now that the entire siege of Lahore was not about ensuring I appear before the court in a case but was intended to take me away to prison so that I am unable to lead our election campaign.”
Pakistan’s information minister said this week the government had nothing to do with the police action and the police were complying with court orders.
CLASH OUTSIDE LAHORE HOME
During Tuesday’s arrest attempt, hundreds of supporters prevented police from entering the premises. Authorities said they were attacked by petrol bombs, iron rods and slingshots on Tuesday.
Many of the supporters stayed back to guard Khan’s home as he left for Islamabad on Saturday.
Police raided his house in a plush Lahore neighbourhood after blocking nearby roads and suspending mobile services in the area.
Punjab province Information Minister Amir Mir told Reuters that police had arrived outside Khan’s house again on Saturday to collect evidence about attacks on police and people wanted in various cases.
“When police arrived, the PTI activists tried to stop them by pelting stones and baton attacks. In retaliation, police arrested many of them. Police had already informed the PTI leadership about the evidence collection process,” Mir said.
Khan’s party shared with journalists footage that appeared to show police in the garden of the Lahore home beating his supporters with batons.
Khan said his wife was alone in the house during the raid.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Geo News the police recovered weapons from the premises outside Khan’s home. Sanaullah said law enforcement personnel did not enter the residence, remaining in the garden and driveway.
He said police had a search warrant to carry out the search.