Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has been presented before a judge at a police station in Islamabad, 24 hours after his arrest by scores of paramilitary officers that led to countrywide uproar.
Khan was also indicted on Wednesday by the Islamabad high court in a separate corruption case in which he is accused of selling millions of dollars worth of state gifts presented by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Last October, the election commission concluded Khan was involved in “corrupt practices” in what is known as the Toshakhana case – named after the government department that handles gifts – and referred the matter to the high court. If he is found guilty, Khan is likely to be disqualified from politics.
Across the country, violence continued after Khan’s arrest. At least four people were shot dead and 84 were injured after clashes broke out between protesters and police in the city of Peshawar, according to a local hospital. Vehicles were torched and the building of Radio Pakistan was set alight. Another person died from smoke inhalation after a building was set ablaze in Lahore.
In Pakistan’s most populous state, Punjab, nearly 1,000 people were arrested and the army was deployed. At least 25 police vehicles were set on fire in the province, with 130 officers injured in clashes and more than a dozen official buildings looted, the government said, blaming Khan’s supporters.
Army troops were also deployed in Islamabad and Khan’s home province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to “maintain the law and order situation”, said the ministry of interior.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which arrested Khan for his alleged role in a property corruption case, had sought to keep the former prime minister in custody for two weeks but the accountability court granted it eight days.
Khan’s lawyer, Khawaja Harris, said he had requested that the hearing took place in a public court rather than behind closed doors in the police station, and he had not received the NAB’s inquiry report on the case. “Everyone has the right to a fair trial,” he said. Speaking outside the police station, he claimed Khan had not been given food or a bed to sleep on overnight in the police cell where he was being held.
There was heavy security at the police station where Khan appeared before a judge. Police fired teargas into the crowds swelling near the barriers. Some people threw stones at officers and set a motorcycle alight.
Among the protesters gathered outside the police station where Khan was held was Imtiaz, who had travelled for three hours from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “We are fighting the police and we will fight them until they release Imran Khan,” he said. “We are face to face with police and no one is afraid of their bullets and brutalities as they arrested our leader. We will get Khan released and then go back home.”
Noman Kamal, 35, who wore a face mask to protect himself from the teargas being fired at the crowds by police, said: “We are Khan’s soldiers. We tried to move ahead and demonstrate our protest in front of Khan but the police started shelling and teargassing us so we had to retreat.”
Members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party called the former prime minister’s arrest a “state abduction” and said the makeshift hearing in the police station was a “kangaroo court”, claiming senior lawyers and figures from the party were being prevented from meeting Khan.
The PTI leader, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said the party was working to secure Khan’s release and would not be deterred by arrests and intimidation. He confirmed the PTI had approached the supreme court to challenge the legality of Khan’s detention.
But as the crackdown on the PTI intensified on Wednesday, the general secretary and former finance minister, Asad Umar, was detained by officials from the counter-terrorism department and Islamabad police outside Islamabad high court, where he had gone to file a plea seeking to meet Khan. According to those present, Umar’s lawyers fought with police to try to prevent the arrest, but were overpowered. Umar was charged in two cases relating to the protests that erupted after Khan’s arrest. Reports that Qureshi had also been arrested were later denied by PTI.
The PTI spokesperson, Fawad Chaudhry, alleged that police had come to arrest him as well but he had sought preventive bail from the Islamabad high court.
As protests continued, mobile internet and access to social media sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook remained down on Wednesday, and schools and universities in Punjab were closed.
In a rare statement, the Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the military, released a statement calling the outbreaks of violence a “black chapter” for Pakistan and alleging an anti-military “conspiracy” to push Pakistan into a civil war.
“We are well aware that behind it were orders, directives and complete pre-planning by some sinister party leadership,” the statement said.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the minister for planning and development, Ahsan Iqbal, denied that the government had any role in Khan’s arrest. “There is no political victimisation,” he said. “Khan’s arrest was ordered by the National Accountability Bureau in a corruption case, and Islamabad high court declared the arrest in accordance with law.”
Iqbal condemned the actions by Khan supporters, alleging they had caused billions of rupees worth of damage to state infrastructure.