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Pakistan court orders ex-PM Imran Khan released on bail, bars his re-arrest for at least two weeks

Pakistan court orders release of Imran Khan
Pakistan's top court orders release of former Prime Minister Imran Khan 05:29

Islamabad — Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan was ordered released on bail Friday for a period of two weeks a day after the country's Supreme Court ruled his arrest on corruption charges unlawful. The lower Islamabad High Court that ordered his release Friday also barred his re-arrest until at least May 17 in any case registered against him in the jurisdiction of Islamabad after May 9. 

Khan's dramatic arrest on Tuesday, when armed security agents pulled him out of the Islamabad court, triggered two days of deadly protests across the south Asian country of 230 million people. Government and military buildings were ransacked, including a military commander's home. At least 2,000 activists from Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party were arrested, including senior leaders, and authorities said at least eight people were killed in the chaos.

Police escort Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) as he arrives at the Islamabad High Court, May 12, 2023.  AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty

Khan's party has claimed the number of deaths is significantly higher.

Khan, 70, arrived Friday morning at the Islamabad High Court under heavy security, escorted by armored security vehicles, to hear a judge grant him bail in the corruption case and issue the order barring his arrest until at least May 17. The PTI said later that Khan would return to his home in the city of Lahore when he was released from court custody, which was expected imminently.

As Khan appeared in court in Pakistan's capital, thousands of his supporters, who had massed near the building on the party's orders under the slogan "I too am Imran," again clashed with police and security forces.

Police arrested several more senior PTI members overnight. The party has not explicitly condemned the attacks on government facilities, but senior members have repeatedly called for the demonstrations to remain peaceful.

Supporters of Imran Khan celebrate after Pakistani top court's order of release
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party activists and supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan celebrate after the Supreme Court declared Khan's arrest illegal, in Peshawar, May 11, 2023. Hussain Ali/Anadolu Agency/Getty

At the court itself, lawyers who back the PTI had gathered, shouting: "Khan, your devotees are countless," and "the lawyers are alive," to which he raised a fist above his head as he entered.

Since being ousted from office last April on a no-confidence vote in parliament, Khan has called for snap elections and aimed almost unprecedented criticism at Pakistan's powerful military, which he accuses of orchestrating his ouster.

Khan has accused senior military and government officials of plotting a November assassination attempt that saw him shot in the leg during a rally.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan injured in shooting 03:29

Since being forced from his premiership four years into his five-year term, Khan has been accused of wrongdoing in more than 100 legal cases — a frequent hazard for opposition figures in Pakistan, where rights groups say the courts are used to quash dissent by the military-backed government.

Khan, who before becoming prime minister was worshipped in Pakistan as the country's most successful cricket captain, was arrested Tuesday at the Islamabad High Court on the orders of the country's top anti-corruption agency. On Thursday, the Supreme Court declared the arrest unlawful because it took place on court premises, where Khan had intended to file a bail application.

In his first reaction to the Islamabad high court's Friday decision to grant Khan bail, Pakistan's current Prime Minister Shebaz Sharif accused the judiciary of acting "like an iron shield" for Khan, and claimed the courts were showing double standards.

APTOPIX Pakistan Imran Khan
A supporter of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan throws a stone at police officers near a pile of burning tires during clashes in Islamabad, Pakistan, May 10, 2023. AP

Sharif told an emergency cabinet meeting that, "politicians [in the past] were sent to jail in fake cases. Did any court ever take notice?"

Another cabinet meeting was scheduled for later Friday.

Despite the Supreme Court's ruling on the legality of Khan's arrest, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah refused to back down Thursday, saying on Pakistan's Dunya TV channel: "If (Khan) gets bail… we will wait for the cancellation of bail and arrest him again."  

Violence sparked by Khan's arrest has fueled instability in the country at a time of severe economic crisis, with record high inflation, anaemic growth and delayed IMF bailout funding.

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