Imran ‘abducted’ from court premises by Rangers: party

— Islamabad police chief says former PM arrested in case which also involves ‘property tycoon’

— Imran tortured and pepper sprayed before violent arrest, says lawyer

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan was “abducted” and dragged from court Tuesday as he appeared to face charges in multiple graft cases, his party said, a dramatic escalation of political tensions that sparked violent demonstrations by his angry supporters across the country.

Khan was removed from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) by Rangers, a paramilitary unit, and security agents from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), said Fawad Chaudhry, senior vice president of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), and then shoved into an armoured car and whisked away to an undisclosed location.

He said Khan has been arrested on corruption charges and he is accused of taking property in exchange for providing benefits to a property tycoon.

The former minister denounced attacks at offices of the military, including General Headquarters (GHQ), and at public places by protestors, saying it was done “in an orchestrated manner on Khan’s directions.”

Chaudhry denounced the arrest of the 71-year-old former cricket star as “an abduction.”

Aamer Farooq, chief justice of the IHC, justified the arrest but also summoned the head of Islamabad police, the secretaries of interior and the additional attorney general.

He also directed to inform the court “immediately” about who was behind the arrest and in what case had Khan been arrested in. The judge said that action will be taken, “even if it has to be taken against ministers,” before eventually declaring the move legal.

According to the head of Islamabad police, Khan has been taken to the NAB office in Rawalpindi.

He was tortured, hit in the head and wounded leg, and pepper sprayed before the arrest, his lawyer Gohar Khan said.

CIVIL, MILITARY TUSSLE

The development comes on the heels of the military’s “rejection” of the claim Khan made against a senior intelligence official, Maj. Gen. Faisal Naseer. Khan had accused the officer of involvement in the assassination attempt against him last year. He doubled down on the allegations in a video message today.

Khan’s detention also follows several unsuccessful attempts, including a police raid at his residence in Lahore’s Zaman Park, to arrest him which he had managed to evade.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan said the deposed premier did not appear in court despite notices for the case hearing of the land transfer of a trust — for which Khan and his wife Bushra Maneka were presumably trustees.

“[The] NAB has arrested him for damaging the national treasury. No violence was done to them,” he added.

The former premier was arrested from within the premises of the IHC where he had appeared for hearing of cases pertaining to inciting mutiny, and violence against PML-N leader Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha.

COURT PROCEEDINGS

His Faisal Chaudhry had initially confirmed the news of Khan’s arrest, which had prompted Justice Farooq to direct the government to appear before the court “within 15 minutes.”

The judge said that he was showing “restraint” and warned that he would “summon” the prime minister if the Islamabad police chief did not appear before the court.

“Come to court and tell us why Imran has been arrested and in which case,” Justice Farooq said. However, no one arrived despite a lapse of 45 minutes.

Barrister Khan, who was present at the IHC during the arrest, alleged Khan was “tortured”.

“They hit his head and leg,” the lawyer told media, claiming that Rangers had arrested the ex-premier. Gohar further stated that the PTI chairman’s wheelchair was also tossed aside during the arrest.

In a video posted on the party’s Twitter account, he said that Rangers officials broke down the high court’s main gate and windows before “tearing apart” the area where biometric verification is carried out.

He said Rangers officials used pepper spray and tear gas shells, alleging that Khan was hit on the head and his injured leg with “hard objects”. He further alleged that Khan’s wheelchair, in which he had arrived at the court, was also tossed aside.

He said that all the officials at the scene belonged to the Rangers and that there were “no police at the scene”.

THE ARREST

Reuters witness said shortly after Khan entered the gate of the IHC, contingents of paramilitary forces and armoured personnel carriers entered after him.

The gate was blocked by the armoured vehicles while the ex-PM was whisked away shortly after under heavy security, the witness added.

Chaudhry, the senior vice president, also said the IHC was occupied by Rangers, “lawyers were being subjected to torture” and Khan’s car was surrounded.

On its official Twitter handle, the former ruling party claimed that the PTI chairman’s lawyer was “badly injured” inside the IHC premises during the arrest.

Asad Umar, secretary general of the party, tweeted that a six-member committee, headed by vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, would determine the next course of action.

“Pakistan’s biggest political leader has been arrested,” Umar said. “The whole world is being shown that there is no law in the country.”

Qureshi, meanwhile, vowed to fight a political and legal war for the “safe recovery” and “release” of the party chief. In a statement, he “strongly condemned” the arrest, saying that it was unjustified and unacceptable.

Qureshi said that before departing for the IHC, Khan had said that he was ready to be arrested. “But storming the high court and disrespecting lawyers is fascist and condemnable,” he said.

He also called on the IHC chief justice to immediately take notice of the arrest and requested him to issue Khan’s release orders.

“The entire nation is extremely concerned over Khan’s well-being,” Qureshi said, adding that the PTI would hold peaceful protests against this move across the country today.

He added that a meeting of the party’s central leadership, which was established by Khan previously, was held earlier today. “We will soon announce a comprehensive plan of action.”

REACTIONS

Former minister and party leader Hammad Azhar said that Khan’s arrest was “not acceptable” and asserted that the PTI chief “is our red line”. He called on the nation to take to the streets against Khan’s arrest.

Shafqat Mahmood said that he strongly condemned the event, alleging that the PTI chairman was also “manhandled and mistreated”.

“This is the height of fascism and totally unacceptable. Rule of law in the country is over,” he said.

Azhar Mashwani, social media head of the party, alleged that Khan had been “abducted” from inside the court by Rangers. He said that the party had given an immediate call for staging protests in the country.

Musarrat Cheema, in a video message on Twitter, said: “They are torturing Khan right now […] they are beating Khan sahib. They have done something with Khan sahib.”

PTI’s Twitter account also shared the video of Khan’s lawyer, saying that he was “badly injured” outside the IHC.

PTI workers took to the streets and blocked roads to lodge their protest against the arrest. Police shelling started to disperse the protesters across Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

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