© Reuters. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, waves from the vehicle as he leaves from Lahore to appear before Islamabad High Court, in Lahore, Pakistan March 18, 2023. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
By Ariba Shahid and Akhtar Soomro
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was set to appear in court on Saturday after he expressed fear of arrest in a standoff with the government that has led to intense clashes with his supporters.
Police entered Khan’s home in the city of Lahore after he left for his court appearance in the capital Islamabad.
Khan, in office from 2018 to 2022, is facing a spate of legal challenges, including one that prompted a failed attempt to arrest him on Tuesday.
He was to address charges in court on Saturday of unlawfully selling state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while in office.
Khan says he followed legal procedures in acquiring the gifts.
Khan, 70, reached the capital on Saturday afternoon and was on his way to the court in a motorcade surrounded by supporters.
Islamabad’s police chief told local broadcaster Geo News that Khan’s supporters had attacked police near the court and fired teargas shells, prompting police to fire more teargas back.
Khan has led nationwide protests since his ouster from power last year and has had a spate of cases registered against him.
The police chief for Punjab province, Usman Anwar, told a media conference in Lahore that officers went to Khan’s house on Saturday to intercept people who had been involved in earlier clashes with police and had arrested 61 people, including for throwing petrol bombs.
Earlier this week, police and Khan’s supporters clashed outside his home during the arrest attempt.
Hours before leaving his home, the former cricket star told Reuters he has formed a committee to lead his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), if he is arrested.
Khan, who was shot and wounded while campaigning in November, said in the interview the threat to his life is greater than before and asserted – without providing evidence – that his political opponents and the military want to block him from standing in elections later this year.
The military and government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has denied being behind the cases against Khan. The military – which has an outsized role in Pakistan, having ruled the country for nearly half of its 75-year history – has said it remains neutral towards politics.
GOVERNMENT ‘INTENDS TO ARREST ME’
The court has previously issued arrest warrants for Khan in the case as he had failed to appear on previous hearings despite summonses.
On his assurance that he would appear on Saturday, the court granted Khan protection against arrest, but he said he feared the police and government planned to take him into custody.
“It is now clear that, despite my having gotten bail in all my cases, the (Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition) govt intends to arrest me. Despite knowing their malafide intentions, I am proceeding to Islamabad & the court bec(ause) I believe in rule of law,” Khan said on Twitter.
“It is also obvious now that the entire siege of Lahore was not about ensuring I appear before the court in a case but was intended to take me away to prison so that I am unable to lead our election campaign.”
Pakistan’s information minister said this week the government had nothing to do with the police action and the police were complying with court orders.
The case to be heard on Saturday pertains to charges that Khan sold luxury watches and other items given to the state during his term as prime minister.
CLASH OUTSIDE LAHORE HOME
During Tuesday’s arrest attempt, hundreds of supporters prevented police from entering the premises. Authorities said they were attacked by petrol bombs, iron rods and slingshots on Tuesday.
Many of the supporters stayed back to guard Khan’s home as he left for Islamabad on Saturday.
Punjab province Information Minister Amir Mir told Reuters that police had arrived outside Khan’s house again on Saturday to collect evidence about attacks on police and people wanted in various cases.
“When police arrived, the PTI activists tried to stop them by pelting stones and baton attacks. In retaliation, police arrested many of them. Police had already informed the PTI leadership about the evidence collection process,” Mir said.
Khan’s party shared with journalists footage that appeared to show police in the garden of the Lahore home beating his supporters with batons.
Khan said his wife was alone in the house during the raid.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Geo News the police recovered weapons from the premises outside Khan’s home. Sanaullah said law enforcement personnel did not enter the residence, remaining in the garden and driveway.
He said police had a search warrant to carry out the search.