ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani police on Saturday arrested former Prime Minister Imran Khan at his home in the eastern city of Lahore after a court convicted him in an asset concealment case and handed him down a three-year prison sentence.
It’s the second time the popular opposition leader has been detained this year.
The prison sentence could see Khan barred from politics as the law says people with a criminal conviction cannot hold or run for public office. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, condemned the ruling and said it will challenge the decision in a superior court.
While a superior court can suspend the conviction, it’s the country’s election body that ultimately disqualifies Khan from politics.
The Islamabad court issued the arrest warrant after convicting Khan. Police moved quickly to take the popular politician from his home to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, senior police officer Ali Nasir Rizvi said. Local information minister, Amir Mir, said Khan was being taken to Lahore airport to be transported to the capital.
Since his ouster from power in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April 2022, Khan has been slapped with more than 150 legal cases, including several on charges of corruption, terrorism and inciting people to violence over deadly protests in May that saw his followers attack government and military property across the country. Khan, cricket star-turned-politician, remains the leading opposition figure despite his ouster.
A PTI spokesman, Rauf Hasan, described the asset concealment trial as the “worst in history and tantamount to the murder of justice.”
Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb denied Khan’s arrest had anything to do with elections due to be held later this year. She said Khan had been given every opportunity to defend himself against the asset concealment charges. “Instead Imran Khan used the time to delay the court proceedings and went back and forth to the high court and supreme court to halt this case,” she said.
Aurangzeb added that Khan has been “proven guilty of illegal practices, corruption, concealing assets and wrongly declaring wealth in tax returns.”
In Lahore, a group of pro-Khan lawyers reached his Zaman Park home and chanted slogans protesting his conviction and arrest.
His party released a video message showing Khan at home behind a desk and the Pakistani and PTI flags in the background. It wasn’t clear when the recording was made.
Khan told his supporters he would be in jail by the time the message reached them and that they should not stay quietly in their homes. “I am not doing this for my freedom,” he said. “I am doing it for my nation, you, your children’s future. If you don’t stand up for your rights, you will live the life of slaves and slaves do not have a life.”
He urged people to peacefully protest until they get their rights, namely a government of their choice through voting and “not the one like today’s occupying power.”
Pakistan has seen its share of former prime ministers arrested over the years and interventions by its powerful military.
Khan is the seventh former prime minister to be arrested in Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arrested and hanged in 1979. The current prime minister’s brother, Nawaz Sharif, who also served as prime minister, was arrested several times on corruption allegations.