Former Pakistani PM resists arrest as supporters battle with police

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Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan has accused authorities of acting outside the law to detain him as his supporters violently clashed with police. Officers tried to arrest the ousted premier for failing to appear in court on graft charges, using tear gas on his supporters, who had gathered outside his house in the city of Lahore to act as a blockade.

Mr Khan claims the charges against him are politically motivated, though he has offered to sign a guarantee that he will appear in an Islamabad court on Saturday. 

Early on Wednesday, Khan emerged from his house to meet with his supporters, who had faced tear gas and police batons through the night to save him from arrest. He said he was ready to travel to Islamabad on March 18 under his arrest warrant, but that police did not accept the offer.

Khan later posed for cameras seated at a long table, showing off piles of spent tear gas shells he said had been collected from around his home.

“What crime did I commit that my house has been attacked like this,” he tweeted. Fawad Chaudhry, a senior party leader from Khan’s party claimed hundreds of Khan’s supporters were injured.

At the Islamabad High Court, Khan’s lawyer Khawaja Haris and his team petitioned for the suspension of the arrest warrant for the former premier. The court was expected to issue a ruling about the suspension later on Wednesday.

By around 2pm, the clashes subsided and police stepped back, apparently in an effort to ease the tensions. This encouraged more Khan supporters to join those outside and inside his home as the situation calmed.

Many chanted Allahu akbar, the Arabic phrase for “God is great.” Khan, still wearing a gas mask, greeted them at his home.

Officials said security forces were told to move back from Khan’s house while the court in the capital, Islamabad, considered whether to suspend the warrant.

The Punjab provincial government said on Wednesday that more than 100 police officers were injured in clashes with Khan’s supporters. They denied Khan’s allegation that officers were using live ammunition.

Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April, was ordered to appear before a judge in Islamabad on Friday to answer charges of illegally selling state gifts he had received during his term as premier and concealing his assets.

The former premier has avoided appearances before the court since November, when he was wounded in a gun attack at a protest rally in eastern Punjab province, claiming he was not medically fit to travel from Lahore to Islamabad to face indictment.

Last week, he went to Islamabad to appear before three courts, but he failed to appear before the fourth court to face indictment in the graft case, which is a legal process for starting his trial.

Khan has claimed that the string of cases against him, which includes terrorism charges, are a plot by the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to discredit the former cricket star turned Islamist politician.

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From his home, Khan urged his followers on Tuesday to fight on even if he is arrested. “They think this nation will fall asleep when Imran Khan is jailed,” he wrote on Twitter. “You need to prove them wrong.”

On Wednesday, he tweeted that there was a plot “to abduct & assassinate” him.

Prime Minister Sharif on Wednesday criticised Khan in televised remarks, saying that the ex-premier “considers himself above the law, and he has been defying court orders to avoid arrest.” 

Sharif insisted he had nothing to do with the arrest warrant, which he said was a court order and the police were only complying with it.

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