Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the release of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose arrest on corruption charges earlier this week sparked a wave of violence across the country by his supporters.
After the ruling, Khan left the court in a heavily protected motorcade for a secure location. Clashes between celebrating supporters of Khan and police briefly broke out near the Supreme Court building, but violence around the country appeared to ease. The government, however, denounced the ruling and said it was determined to find other legal avenues to arrest the former premier.
For a nation accustomed to military takeovers, political crises and violence, the turmoil of the past week has been unprecedented. Since Khan’s dramatic arrest on Tuesday, protesters have been clashing with police in areas around the country, and mobs have attacked military and government sites, trying to storm the military’s main headquarters and burning down the residence of a top general in Lahore. The government responded with a crackdown on Khan’s supporters, arresting more than 2,000 so far.
The Supreme Court ruled Khan’s arrest two days ago was illegal and, while it freed him from custody, it ordered him kept under protection of security forces in a safe location in the capital, Islamabad. The head of his legal team, Babar Awan, underlined that Khan is a “free citizen” and will be allowed to meet with lawyers and supporters. Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial urged Khan to appeal to his supporters to remain peaceful.
Khan will appear Friday before the Islamabad High Court to reconsider its earlier ruling that the arrest was legal. Khan may also ask the court for protection from future arrest on the corruption charges.