March 18, 2023
Pakistani riot police Saturday clashed with thousands of former prime minister Imran Khan supporters as his motorcade arrived outside the court building in the capital, Islamabad, to face charges of unlawfully selling state gifts he received when in office.
Officials claimed that law enforcement personnel fired massive tear gas shells to disperse the crowd after stones were thrown at them. The violent standoff prevented Khan from entering the court building for several hours and injured dozens of people —prompting the judge to allow Khan to register his appearance from inside his vehicle and adjourn the proceedings until March 30.
Khan, the head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, denies corruption allegations, calling them politically motivated. His decision to finally make the court appearance followed a high court decision Friday to cancel an arrest warrant a lower court had issued earlier this month after he failed to appear on several recent court dates.
Thousands of police personnel were deployed in and around the compound housing the court in the Pakistani capital ahead of Khan’s appearance Saturday after he had cited threats to his life. His close aide, Shireen Mazari, denounced the police for attacking PTI supporters.
“What is happening today in Pakistan is a violation of the Pakistan constitution as well as Pakistan’s international legal commitments and, therefore, the international community needs to take note and act so that democracy is not totally destroyed and fascism is not established within the country because that’s where it is heading right now,” Mazari said.
Government officials have criticized Khan for avoiding court appearances to answer corruption charges.
Clashes between Khan’s supporters and security forces erupted earlier this week outside his residence in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the most populous Pakistani province, when police attempted to arrest him for failing to make his court dates.
Separately on Saturday, police stormed Khan’s home in Lahore shortly after he left for the court in Islamabad and baton-charged dozens of his supporters there before rounding them up, according to television footage, witnesses, and police officials. TV coverage, however, showed police using bulldozers to smash down a wall and the main gate to the residence.
Provincial police chief Usman Anwar told reporters the operation was aimed at removing encroachments and blockades erected by PTI supporters outside Khan’s residence in the upscale Zaman Park neighborhood. He said the operation had taken more than 60 people into custody on suspicion they were behind attacks on police personnel earlier this week.
Anwar claimed that police found masks, gasoline-filled bottles and batons used in attacks on police during the week that came from the residence, allegations PTI leaders rejected as fabricated.
“Meanwhile, Punjab police have led an assault on my house in Zaman Park, where Bushra Begum is alone. Under what law are they doing this?” Khan wrote on Twitter, referring to his wife, as his convoy traveled to Islamabad.
The police action came despite Friday’s orders by a provincial high court barring authorities from raiding the residential compound.
Khan was ousted from office last April by a parliamentary no-confidence vote. The cricket hero turned politician has since been slapped with dozens of legal challenges across Pakistan — ranging from sedition and terrorism to corruption charges — his lawyers told a provincial court in Lahore on Friday. If convicted the ousted leader could face disqualification from national politics.
The 70-year-old PTI chief denies all the allegations, saying his successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, is behind the cases to prevent him from contesting elections and staging a comeback to power. Khan also has accused the government of unleashing a crackdown on leaders and workers of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to deter them from participating in elections later this year.
The government rejects the charges, saying it has nothing to do with Khan’s legal challenges nor is it targeting the opposition party.
Additionally, Khan has alleged that his removal from power resulted from a conspiracy by Sharif and the United States, charges both Washington and Islamabad have rejected.
The deposed leader has led massive nationwide protests to demand a snap election. Sharif has rejected the demand, saying elections will be held in Pakistan as scheduled later this year. Khan was shot and wounded in the leg during a rally last November in an attack he alleges was orchestrated by the government to kill him. Officials deny the allegations as baseless.
The political turmoil comes as Pakistan faces a deepening economic crisis. The Sharif administration’s attempts to convince the International Monetary Fund to resume critical lending to the cash-strapped country have failed because of a lack of crucial reforms.