ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested and dragged from court Tuesday as he appeared to face charges in multiple graft cases, a dramatic escalation of political tensions that sparked violent demonstrations by his angry supporters across the country.
The arrest of Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022 but remains the leading opposition figure, represented the latest confrontation to roil Pakistan, which has seen former prime ministers arrested over the years and interventions by its powerful military.
At least one person was reported killed in clashes between protesters and the military in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, with another five people wounded there, while about 15 injuries were reported amid similar violence in Karachi, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore. Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrations.
Amid the violence, officials at Pakistan’s telecommunication authority said regulators blocked social media, including Twitter, and internet service was suspended in the capital of Islamabad and other cities. Classes at some private schools were canceled for Wednesday.
Khan was removed from the Islamabad High Court by security agents from the National Accountability Bureau, said Fawad Chaudhry, a senior official with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, and then shoved into an armored car and whisked away.
Chaudhry denounced the arrest of the 71-year-old former cricket star as “an abduction.” Pakistan’s independent GEO TV broadcast video of Khan being hauled away.
A scuffle broke out between Khan’s supporters and police outside the court. Some of Khan’s lawyers and supporters were injured in the melee, as were several police, Chaudhry said.
Khan was taken to the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, for questioning at the offices of the National Accountability Bureau, according to police and government officials. He also was to undergo a routine medical checkup, police said.
Khan had arrived at the Islamabad High Court from nearby Lahore, where he lives, to face charges in the graft cases.
He has denounced the cases against him, which include terrorism charges, as a politically motivated plot by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, saying his ouster was illegal and a Western conspiracy. Khan has campaigned against Sharif and demanded early elections.
Tuesday's arrest was based on a new warrant from the National Accountability Bureau obtained last week in a separate graft case for which Khan had not been granted bail. His lawyers challenged the legality of the arrest, but the court upheld it, although it added that Khan should not have been forcibly removed from the courtroom. Khan is scheduled to appear at an anti-graft tribunal on Wednesday, officials said.
“Imran Khan has been arrested because he was being sought in a graft case,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told a news conference. He alleged Pakistan’s treasury had lost millions of dollars while Khan was in office due to illegal purchases of lands from a business tycoon.
The National Accountability Bureau is Pakistan’s powerful anti-corruption organization that has detained and investigated former officials, including prime ministers, politicians and retired military officers. But some view the NAB as a tool used by those in power, especially the military, to crack down on political opponents. When Khan was in power, his government arrested Sharif, then the opposition leader, through the NAB.
At a news conference, Law Minister Azam Tarar said Khan was arrested because he was not cooperating with the investigations. He also denounced the violence by Khan supporters, saying that protests must remain peaceful.
“It should have not happened,” he said, shortly after TV video emerged of burning vehicles and damaged public property in parts of the country.