Pakistan court rejects ex-PM Khan’s plea to suspend warrant

A supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan takes photos with mobile phone to his colleagues with huge Khan's poster painted on a truck neat the Khan's residence, in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani court on Thursday rejected a petition from former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s lawyers to suspend a warrant for him to appear in court in a graft case linked to his term in office — a development that increases the likelihood of another police attempt to arrest the ousted premier.

Khan has been holed up in his home in the eastern city of Lahore, where clashes erupted earlier this week when police tried to detain him after he failed to show up at an earlier court hearing in the case.

Khan, who was ousted from office last April, is facing charges in several legal cases, including the graft case, and also terrorism, over verbally threatening a female judge last year. He is now due to appear in court in the capital, Islamabad, on Saturday to answer the indictment that he had illegally sold state gifts as prime minister and concealed assets.

Judge Zafar Iqbal ruled against suspending the warrant after hearing arguments from Khan’s lawyer Khawaja Haris and the prosecution. The judge explained his decision by saying Khan had forfeited some of his rights with “his defiance of the court process.”

Also Thursday, a Lahore High Court extended a pause in the effort to arrest Khan, easing tensions in the city after clashes erupted earlier this week when police tried to detain him. His supporters amassed outside Khan’s residence as police fired tear gas and fought back baton-wielding officers for two days.

The pause — in effect until Friday morning — was seen as a reprieve for the 70-year-old opposition leader.

The courts have also barred Khan and his Pakistan Tehree-e-Insaf opposition party from holding a rally on Sunday ahead of elections for the assembly in Punjab, where Lahore is the provincial capital.

Thursday’s order sent a wave of relief among Khan’s supporters — though security forces deployed around Khan’s home were still at the scene.

Usman Anwar, the Punjab police chief, said police would “ comply with the court order,” without elaborating.

Khan has claimed his ouster was a conspiracy by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and the United States. Both Washington and Sharif’s government have denied the allegations.

Violence erupted in Lahore on Tuesday when about 1,000 Khan supporters clashed with police when they tried to arrest the former premier at his house in the upscale Zaman Park neighborhood. Khan’s supporters hurled petrol bombs, rocks and bricks at police. Officers responded by swinging batons, firing tear gas and using water cannons. They failed to arrest Khan.

On Wednesday, Khan said in a video message that he was ready to travel to Islamabad on Saturday to appear in court. He posed for cameras with 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 at the time.