Pakistan's Imran Khan presses legal fight, gets protection from arrest in multiple terrorism cases

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Security personnels secure a vehicle carrying the Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives to appear in a court, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, May 23, 2023. Khan on Tuesday pressed his legal battle before a court in the capital, Islamabad, which granted him protection from arrest until early next month in several cases where he faces terrorism charges for inciting violence. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday pressed his legal battle before a court in the capital, Islamabad, which granted him protection from arrest until early next month in several cases including terrorism charges for inciting violence.

The development comes as authorities have been cracking down on the supporters of Khan, now Pakistan's top opposition leader. Thousands staged violent protests and attacked public property and military installations following Khan's arrest earlier this month.

The violence subsided only days later, after Khan was released on the orders of the country's Supreme Court. Ten people were killed in clashes with the police.

Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April last year, has campaigned against the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, claiming his ouster was illegal and demanding early elections.

But Khan claims he was ousted under a U.S. plot, a charge that Washington and Sharif’s government deny. Since his exit, he has stepped up his campaign to oust Sharif’s government through “pressure from the people.”

Since then, the 70-year-old former cricket star turned Islamist politician has become embroiled in more than 100 legal cases against him. He faces charges of graft purportedly committed while he was in office and has been charged with terrorism in eight cases over the violent protests by his supporters and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf opposition party.

After the Islamabad court on Tuesday granted Khan protection from arrest on terrorism charges until June 8, he and his wife travelled to the nearby city of Rawalpindi, where Khan appeared before the National Accountability Bureau to answer questions in a separate graft case.

After a four-hour questioning, the couple returned home to Lahore. No details were immediately available about Khan's appearance before the agency.

The couple is accused of accepting the gift of property to build a private university in exchange for providing benefits to a real estate tycoon. Khan denies the charge, saying he and his wife, Bushra Bibi, were not involved in any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, in a blow to Khan, a close associate who served as a rights minister in his 2018-2022 government, announced on Tuesday that she was leaving the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and politics altogether.

Shireen Mazari has been a vocal critic of Pakistan’s military and Sharif's government. She was arrested last Thursday on charges of inciting people to violence, then released on Monday, only to be rearrested again later in the evening. She was freed again sometime later and spoke at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

“I have decided to leave active politics and I will not be a part of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) or any political party from today,” Mazari said, adding that she was quitting for health reasons. She did not elaborate.

Mazari, who also denounced the recent violence by Khan's supporters, is among several leaders from Khan’s party who have quit him because of the deadly protests.

Also on Tuesday, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, another key leader in Khan's party, said at a news conference in Islamabad he is quitting the party over Khan's “politics of confrontation with the state and the military.”

In Pakistan, the military has ruled for half of its 75-year history.