Pakistan Supreme Court calls Imran Khan’s arrest ‘illegal’; sets him free

A Bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked him to present himself before the Islamabad High Court on Friday

May 11, 2023 06:57 pm | Updated 10:50 pm IST - LAHORE

Police officers are seen next to a barricade outside the Police Lines where Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan is being held after his arrest in Islamabad, on May 11, 2023.

Police officers are seen next to a barricade outside the Police Lines where Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan is being held after his arrest in Islamabad, on May 11, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday declared that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan’s arrest from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday was “illegal” and ordered the former Prime Minister be released.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial gave the verdict and sent Mr. Khan to the Police Lines guest house in Islamabad and asked him to present himself before the IHC on Friday.

The SC verdict comes a day after a strongly worded statement by the military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which said that May 9 would go down in history as a “dark chapter”. The ISPR said that soon after Mr. Khan’s arrest, there were “organised attacks on Army properties and installations and anti-Army slogans were raised”. The ISPR said a “power-hungry group wrapped in political garb” had done to the country what the country’s enemies had failed to do since its inception. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday also condemned the PTI workers for committing “unforgivable crimes”.

Lawyer and legal expert Waqqas Mir said that legally the Supreme Court reached the right decision by declaring the manner and method of Mr. Khan’s arrest illegal. “The speed with which the court moved and the indulgence Imran received is rare: this was in the aftermath of an arrest and a subsequent endorsement of the legality of the arrest by the IHC. The top court must in part have been motivated by the desire to move with unusual speed keeping in view the general rioting and breakdown of civic life in the aftermath of Khan’s arrest. None of this, however, will provide succour to other political leaders and ordinary citizens whose plea against unlawful detentions -- including arrests from court premises -- didn’t receive such indulgence,” Mr. Mir said.

When asked what does the SC verdict mean in light of the statement by the ISPR, former Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar told The Hindu that the usage of the word ‘establishment’ in Pakistan’s political context is an unspoken compromise between the often harassed political forces and the real masters of Pakistan. “Naming them directly offends them and invites consequences.” Mr. Khokhar said the ISPR’s reaction to Imran Khan came when he directly named a serving military officer (in an attempt on his life). “The very next day he was arrested in court premises by paramilitary forces. But the word establishment traditionally hasn’t excluded judiciary. They have worked in tandem to hang, oust and destabilise democratic governments. Imran Khan’s release signals a major shift in that power equation.”

He added that the future remains uncertain as “Pakistani political drama shames the Game of Thrones with its constant twists and turns. However, this much can be said that a cornered Imran Khan was dangerous and now with his ego wounded by maltreatment he might just turn into a monster.”

Journalist Zebunnisa Burki said she was still not sure what the past two-three days were all about. “If this was about arresting Imran in the Al-Qadir Trust case, surely they could have done that in a manner that ensured there was no doubt to its legality. If this was about ‘teaching a lesson’, then has the SC effectively upturned the whole point?” Burki says things still seem rather murky. “What we have is a mob that ran wild, hours of violent protests, a military establishment that has come out harshly against the violence, and an apex court that somehow can’t seem to shake off allegations of partisanship. All for a man whose personality cult may just have become even more out of control.”.

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