Protests erupted across Pakistan on Tuesday after former cricket captain and ex-prime minister Imran Khan was arrested during a court appearance in the capital for one of dozens of cases pending since he was ousted last year.
His arrest follows months of political crisis and comes hours after the powerful military rebuked the former international cricketer for alleging a senior officer had been involved in a plot to kill him.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse Khan supporters in Karachi and Lahore, while protesters blocked roads in the capital Islamabad, neighbouring Rawalpindi, and Peshawar.
“Imran Khan has been arrested in the Qadir Trust case,” the official Islamabad police Twitter account said, referring to a graft case.
Video broadcast on local TV channels showed Khan – who has a pronounced limp since being shot during an assassination attempt last year – being manhandled by dozens of paramilitary rangers into an armoured car inside the Islamabad High Court premises.
“As we reached the court’s biometric room to mark the attendance, dozens of rangers attacked us,” said Ali Bukhari, a lawyer with Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. “They beat him and dragged him out,” he told AFP.
It was not immediately clear where he was taken.
Khan’s arrest comes a day after the military warned him against making “baseless allegations” after he again accused a senior officer of plotting to kill him.
The rebuke late Monday underscored how far Khan’s relations have deteriorated with the military, which backed his rise to power in 2018 but withdrew its support ahead of a parliamentary vote of no confidence that ousted him last year.
“The timing of the arrest is striking,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center “The senior army leadership is uninterested in repairing the rift between itself and Khan, and so with this arrest it’s likely sending a message that the gloves are very much off.”
Anticipating his arrest, party officials later released a pre-recorded video by Khan in which he urged supporters to come out in support of “true freedom”.
“My Pakistanis, by the time these words reach you I would have been detained under an illegitimate case,” he says in the video. “One thing should become clear for all of you from this is that fundamental rights in Pakistan, the rights given to us by our constitution and democracy, have been buried.”
Often described as being impulsive and brash, Khan draws frequently on cricket analogies to describe his political battles.
“I fight till the very last ball,” he said in one TV interview.
© Agence France-Presse