Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ruled that former prime minister Imran Khan’s arrest on corruption charges on Tuesday was illegal and has ordered his immediate release.
Mr Khan appeared in court earlier today in front of three Supreme Court judges who told him that the way he had been arrested (inside a court complex while conducting biometric tests) was invalid.
Paramilitary forces seized Mr Khan and dragged him from inside court premises, before whisking him away in an armoured vehicle.
“Your arrest was invalid so the whole process needs to be backtracked,” Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial told Mr Khan. He would now be under the protection of the Supreme Court, the justice ruled.
Mr Khan then told the judges that he had been kidnapped from the High Court and “hit with sticks.”
He was then reminded several times by the judges that others had experienced worse treatment.
There was no immediate response from the security forces to the allegations.
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Mr Khan has been kept at a “police guesthouse” in the capital since Tuesday, which was turned into a makeshift court where a judge formally charged him with corruption for the first time in the dozens of cases he faces. He pleaded not guilty.
Conviction would disqualify him from standing for office, possibly for life.
Elections – which he was favourite to win – are due later this year.
Although Mr Khan asked repeatedly to be allowed to stay at his home, the court determined that because of the security situation he would have to remain at the police guesthouse.
However the judges emphasised that he would be allowed to have whoever he chooses as a guest.
When the proceedings finished, Mr Khan sat within the court for 15 minutes taking questions from the media. He said he had not known that people had been killed during the protests or that senior members of his party had been arrested.
At least 10 people have been killed and 2,000 arrested as violent protests have swept the country since he was arrested. Military facilities have also been attacked.
Seven senior PTI leaders are among those arrested. They include former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who police say “incited violence.”
In a statement Mr Qureshi denied this and urged supporters to continue with peaceful protests.
Since being ousted last year, Khan has become one of the military’s most vocal critics and analysts say the army’s popularity has fallen.
A day before his arrest, the military warned him against making “baseless allegations” after he again accused a senior officer of plotting to kill him.