Islamabad: Police and supporters of former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan faced off for hours in Lahore city as law enforcement personnel sought to arrest him to ensure his appearance in court to face charges of misusing his office to sell state gifts.
The drama began when a large contingent of police in riot gear moved towards Khan’s home in Lahore’s Zaman Park neighborhood to execute a non-bailable warrant issued in connection with what has come to be known as the “Toshakhana” (state gift depository) case.
Police personnel and supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party engaged in pitched battles outside his home, injuring several on both sides. Police used water cannons and teargas to disperse the PTI workers, who pelted them with stones and bottles.
The 70-year-old cricketer-turned-politician, who has been demanding a snap election since he lost a vote of confidence in Parliament in April last year, issued a video message urging his followers to “come out and continue the struggle” even if he was arrested.
“Police have come to catch me and take me to jail. They think that when Imran Khan goes to jail, people will go to sleep. You have to prove them wrong,” he said in the brief video, speaking in Urdu and invoking Pakistan’s origins in Islam.
“For your rights and true freedom, you have to come out and struggle…But if something happens to me, or if I am sent to jail or if they kill me, you have to prove that even without Imran Khan this nation will continue its struggle and show that you will never accept slavery under these thieves and the one person who has been making decisions for the country,” he said.
Internet services were snapped around Khan’s home and helicopters were used for surveillance in the area. The paramilitary Pakistan Rangers were deployed to reinforce the police personnel.
Soon after Khan issued the video message, there were reports of protests by his supporters in Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi. The protestors blocked key roads in these cities before they were dispersed by police.
Police personnel from Islamabad arrived in Lahore this week to arrest Khan after a district and sessions court in the Pakistani capital restored the non-bailable arrest warrant against him in the Toshakhana case. The arrest warrant was issued after Khan ignored repeated summons to appear in court.
Khan faces charges that he unlawfully retained and sold gifts he received from foreign leaders while he was the premier.