Pakistan’s information minister has defended the arrest of Imran Khan on the day the Supreme Court ruled it was unlawful.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, Marriyum Aurangzeb said: “A person who has defied court, who does not abide by the law, who avoid courts and who thinks he’s untouchable and cannot be questioned, has to be treated the way every citizen is treated.”
But Mr Khan‘s arrest was far from ordinary – paramilitary troops taking him from court on corruption charges and sparking a deadly outpouring of anger against the powerful military in Pakistan.
Ms Aurangzeb dismissed claims the sudden arrest was a political attempt to silence the former prime minister who enjoys significant support across Pakistan after launching a comeback and surviving an assassination attempt.
“If we wanted to arrest him or silence him because of his popularity, we would not have waited 14 months,” she said.
The information minister also rejected claims that the government wants to disqualify Mr Khan from running in this year’s election.
“Why would we want to do that? Why would any democratic government want to do that?” she said.
Although, she claimed, Mr Khan did that when he was in charge, “arresting the political leaders, putting them in jail and silencing them in the first month of coming to power”.
Imran Khan released from custody after Pakistan court rules arrest illegal
Motorcade thought to be carrying Imran Khan
Why the Pakistan unrest matters
Unrest has spread across multiple cities in Pakistan with unprecedented scenes of angry crowds breaking into military properties.
Some homes of army personnel have also been set alight, challenging a powerful and often revered military.
Ms Aurangzeb rejected the idea anyone was democratically protesting and accused supporters of Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of “burning ambulances… bridges, the metro, railway stations, the hospitals and the mosques”.
The police, she said, has by contrast exercised restraint, alongside the military, with a “responsible restraint and withdrawal” across the country.
She said it was now up to the High Court to decide whether to grant bail to Mr Khan or not, a court which has already declared his arrest as lawful.
Mr Khan is due to appear before the High Court in Islamabad this morning from 10am local time (6am UK time).
It sets the stage for another dramatic chapter in the Imran Khan story.
But whatever happens, he still faces multiple charges of corruption and contempt of court and the threat of another potentially divisive arrest looms large.