Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, has pleaded not guilty to charges of corruption, a day after his arrest sparked nationwide protests. The charges against him are related to the alleged illegal sale of state gifts during his time as Prime Minister from 2018 to 2022. If convicted, he could be disqualified from standing for office, which may result in a lifetime ban from politics. Elections are scheduled later this year.
Mr Khan’s arrest has dramatically escalated tensions between him and the military at a time of economic crisis. For months, he had avoided arrest, with his supporters fighting pitched battles with the police at times to keep him out of custody.
On Tuesday, dramatic footage showed security officers forcibly removing the 70-year-old from court, after which he was bundled into a police vehicle. He was later indicted on charges related to the alleged transfer of land for Al-Qadir University, near Islamabad, and remanded in custody for eight days.
The action by Pakistan’s anti-corruption body has led to violent protests across the country. The government has called in the army to maintain order in several regions of the country, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Balochistan, and Islamabad. The protests have led to eight deaths and about 1,000 arrests so far, according to the police.
On Wednesday, Mr Khan pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, denying all allegations and saying he fulfilled all legal requirements. It was the first of dozens of cases against him in which he has been formally charged. One of his lawyers said that Mr Khan was faring well and relayed a message to supporters not to give up: “You have to stand your ground for Rule of Law,” he said.
Mr Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said it would challenge the legality of his arrest in court. His supporters argue that the charges against him are politically motivated and that the current government wants to bar him from contesting the upcoming general elections.
The arrest of Mr Khan has sparked violent protests across the country. Extraordinary scenes on Tuesday evening showed Mr Khan’s supporters ransacking the corps commander’s residence in Lahore, smashing chandeliers and making away with peacocks, which they said were bought with “citizen’s money.” The army has issued a stern warning after crowds attacked its properties.
Pakistan’s army described 9 May as a “dark day” and warned protesters of an “extreme reaction” if state properties were attacked again. Police in Islamabad used shipping containers to try to block routes to the compound where Imran Khan was appearing before a judge. The BBC witnessed clashes between protesters and the police in the middle of one of Islamabad’s main motorways.
The government has also suspended mobile internet services across the country and closed schools. Some highways have been blocked, and there is little traffic on roads in major cities.
Many analysts believe that Mr Khan’s election win in 2018 happened with the help of the military. However, amid a growing economic crisis, observers say he fell out of favour with the powerful military, which is the crucial behind-the-scenes player in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Since being in opposition, he has become one of the military’s most vocal critics.
In conclusion, the arrest of Imran Khan has sparked violent protests across the country, and the government has called in the army to maintain order. The charges against him are related to corruption, and if convicted, he could be disqualified from standing for office, which may result in a lifetime ban from politics. The situation remains tense, and many analysts are closely watching how events unfold in the coming days.