PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Sunday dodged arrest as Islamabad Police showed up at his Zaman Park residence in Lahore with court summons to take him into custody for his persistent absences from Toshakhana court hearings.
The 70-year-old former prime minister, who has been recovering from a gunshot injury from an assassination attempt in Wazirabad last year, has thrice skipped indictment hearings in an Islamabad sessions court in the case.
When the Islamabad Police along with their Punjab Police counterparts arrived at Imran’s residence just after noon today, they found a horde of PTI supporters along with party leaders, and were informed that the PTI chief was “unavailable”.
With PTI workers outnumbering the police contingent, and despite Islamabad police chief earlier saying that they won’t go back empty-handed, the arrest could not be made. The Islamabad police left Imran’s residence at around 1:30pm.
As Imran’s whereabouts were debated upon, he ended the hours-long mystery by addressing a televised party event right from the Zaman Park residence a little before 5pm.
What we know so far
- Islamabad Police arrived at Imran’s Zaman Park residence in Lahore around 12:30pm to arrest him
- They were met by a large amount of PTI workers, who massed outside his residence on Fawad Chaudhry’s call
- Non-bailable arrest warrants were issued by a sessions court judge for Imran’s persistent no-shows in Toshakhana case hearings
- Police said those who obstruct arrest will be prosecuted
- Islamabad police chief said won’t go back empty-handed
- PTI threatened mass protests if arrest goes through
- Rana Sanaullah said Imran’s arrest was on court orders, and not the government’s
- Police left Zaman Park at around 1:30pm
- Imran addressed party workers at Zaman Park residence a little before 5pm
- Party approached LHC for protective bail but could not file
- PTI requests CJP to allow Imran to appear before various courts “virtually”
Addressing the crowd of PTI loyalists, Imran said he had never “bowed before any man or institution, and will never let you do so as well”.
Imran said he had called the public to Zaman Park to pay tribute to them for the way they participated in the ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ (court arrest movement). “I did not call you for my support but to thank you,” he added.
He said “only a nation, and not a group” could confront the challenges being faced by the country.
Assailing the government’s performance, he said it was the “worst time” for the country as the economy had “sunk” and the people were being crushed by “record high inflation in Pakistan’s history”.
He lashed out at government leaders, alleging that they had stashed their wealth overseas and were given protection in legal cases by former army chief Gen (retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa.
The PTI chief renewed his allegation that “all those in power today” were behind the Wazirabad assassination attempt on him, but named Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and an intelligence official in particular.
Islamabad police’s attempt to arrest Imran in Toshakhana case
Imran is accused of concealing, in his assets declarations, details of the gifts he retained from the Toshakhana — a repository where presents handed to government officials from foreign officials are kept. Officials are legally allowed to retain gifts provided they pay a pre-assessed amount, typically a fraction of the value of the gift.
In a series of tweets today, the Islamabad Police said an operation to arrest Imran was being conducted with the cooperation of the Lahore police.
It stated that the PTI chief was “avoiding” the arrest, adding that the superintendent of police had “gone into Imran’s room but he was not present there”.
“Islamabad Police will transfer Imran Khan to Islamabad under their protection. Law is equal for all,” it said adding that legal action would be taken against those obstructing the execution of court orders.
Separately, Islamabad Inspector General of Police (IGP) Akbar Nasir said that the police had delivered the court’s notice to Imran and confirmed that it had to be received.
“Now, we are requesting him [Imran] to come with us,” he said in an interview with DawnNewsTV. “With a lot of respect, we have requested Imran Khan to come with us so that the court’s orders can be obeyed and Imran can be presented in court.”
He said that both Islamabad and Lahore’s police teams were present outside the ex-premier’s house and would not leave without arresting him.
“Police’s work is to implement court orders and keep the law and order situation intact. We will try our best that he [Imran] comes with us,” IGP Nasir added.
PTI leader Shibli Faraz received the summons on Imran’s behalf, writing on the document that it was received at 12:58pm and that “Chairman Imran Khan is not available however we will comply with all legal processes”.
Later in the day, when Imran’s presence at his residence was confirmed by way of his speech, Islamabad police said action would be taken against Senator Faraz for “misrepresenting facts” in the way of legal action.
Meanwhile, footage on television showed police officials in Islamabad Police uniforms as well as Punjab Police being held back by PTI workers outside the Zaman Park residence.
A little later, Punjab police reinforcements could also be seen arriving outside Imran’s house.
Additional District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal on Feb 28, issued non-bailable arrest warrants for the PTI chief when he failed to appear in person for the indictment. Imran had four in-person court hearings that day and managed to secure bail in three of the four cases.
The warrant, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, stated that Imran had repetitively failed to appear before the court. “The accused is making a pick and choose for courts and cases and this case is not included in his priority.”
“The accused be summoned through a non-bailable warrant of arrest for March 7,” it added.
In letter to CJP, PTI asks virtual hearings for Imran in all cases
The senior leadership of the PTI penned a letter to Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, requesting him to allow Imran to appear virtually before various courts.
The letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, bore the signatures of PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi and PTI Secretary General Asad Umar.
It said that Imran’s life was in grave danger and that he may be targeted during his court appearance.
The letter stated that the country has a history of notable politicians being “eliminated” and cited the assassinations of late Liaquat Ali Khan, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, and Benazir Bhutto.
It also cites the terrorist attack at a district court in Islamabad’s F8 sector that claimed the life of a judge and injured scores of citizens and court staff.
“This is clearly indicative of the fact that court premises are neither safe nor secure for the court appearance of Imran Khan who is already vulnerable and for whom there exists clear and present danger,” it further reads.
The letter drew attention to how the lives of others, including judges, lawyers, court staff as well as others will also be placed in danger if Imran appeared in court.
It added that it was safer to resort to modern technology when the country has already witnessed a fresh wave of terrorist attacks across the country.
The letter also cites a judgment pronounced by the apex court, emphasising that the “courts with a liberal mind shall adopt modern and scientific methods in the criminal justice system”.
PTI leaders approach LHC for protective bail but to no avail
Meanwhile, the PTI legal team comprising senior leader Fawad Chaudhry and Advocate Azhar Siddique arrived at the Lahore High Court seeking Imran’s protective bail but could not file the petition due to the absence of the registrar’s office staff.
The petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, prays to the court to grant protective bail to Imran for a period of at least 15 days so he could approach the concerned sessions court in Islamabad.
On the other hand, Imran’s counsel Advocate Azhar Siddique said the PTI had filed three petitions in the LHC seeking protective bail in cases pertaining to the Toshakhana and vandalism of the Islamabad Judicial Complex.
“The petitions have been accepted and fixed for hearing. All three petitions regarding Imran’s bail will be heard tomorrow morning at 9am at the LHC,” Siddique said.
Police trying to implement court order: Tarar
Meanwhile, prime minister’s special aide Attaullah Tarar said Imran needed to be indicted in the Toshakhana case, adding that the police did not go to Zaman Park at the government’s directives but to execute the court’s summons for the PTI chief.
Labelling the PTI chief a “coward”, Tarar said “he is not attending the Toshakhana case because he knows that if there is an indictment, then the billions of rupees he and his wife have swallowed from the treasury, which he calls an ordinary case, [will come to light].”
‘A banana republic’
While the police were outside his residence, Imran took the time to tweet about how a country “becomes a banana republic”.
“What future can a country have when crooks are thrust as rulers upon it? SS [Shehbaz Sharif] was about to be convicted by NAB (National Accountability Bureau) for Rs8 bn money laundering and by FIA (Federal Investigation Agency) for another Rs16 bn corruption when he was rescued by Gen Bajwa who kept getting NAB cases trial postponed,” he said.
The PTI chief went on to say that while Shehbaz was under trial, he was made the prime minister.
“He has since proceeded to select heads of those institutions investigating his cases — first FIA and now NAB — simply to get his name permanently cleared in Rs16 bn corruption and Rs8 bn money laundering cases against him.
“This is how a country becomes a banana republic,” he added.
Fawad warns of countrywide protests if ‘red line’ crossed
In a press conference outside Imran’s residence, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said that the Islamabad Police had arrived at the ex-premier’s residence to execute his arrest in the Toshakhana case.
“There are 74 cases against Imran. It is humanly not possible for any person to appear in court in all these cases,” he said, claiming that Imran’s arrest was aimed at postponing the upcoming general elections in Punjab.
Fawad stated that Imran had always respected the judiciary and appeared before courts whenever he was called. “But they want Imran Khan to go to court so that terrorists can target him again.”
He then called on party workers across the country to prepare. “If they cross the red line, there will be a protest that Pakistan has never seen before,” Fawad added.
On the other hand, PTI vice-chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi asked supporters not to panic.
“The notice [presented by the police] does not have any arrest orders. Imran Khan and our legal team will hold a meeting at 2:30pm and then announce our plan of action,” he stated.
The party, Qureshi went on to say, will follow the legal process in this regard.
“We are a political party and we will have a political approach to this situation as well. You need to not worry but stay cautioned. We will meet Imran Khan right now,” he added.
In response to a question, Qureshi said that the only concern the party had was related to Imran’s security.
Later in a second media talk, Fawad claimed the police would be committing contempt of court if they arrest Imran.
“The attempt to arrest Imran Khan is only being carried out so that people can die,” he said, urging PTI workers to remain completely peaceful.
Fawad claimed the IG and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah want a clash to take place at Zaman Park. “Lahore police is being sent here to tear gas people so that people here react,” the PTI leader said. “They are deliberately trying to create an untoward situation”.
The former federal minister said: “They want to arrest Imran Khan so that the public of Pakistan can be jailed.”
He claimed that the courts had already halted the arrest of Imran.
Meanwhile, PTI leader Hammad Azhar called on PTI supporters in Lahore to converge on the Zaman Park residence.
Arrest on court orders, not govt orders: Sanaullah
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has said that Imran was being arrested on the court’s orders and not the government’s order.
“The police have only come to uphold the court’s order. If they had to arrest Imran at all costs, PTI burgers wouldn’t be an obstacle,” he claimed, adding that if the government had decided to arrest the PTI chief, “it would not have been a difficult feat”.
The minister further stated that Imran should be arrested as per court’s orders, punished and then disqualified.
Separately, PML-N chief organiser Maryam Nawaz has asked her father and party supremo Nawaz Sharif to “lend some of his courage to Imran Khan”. Nawaz is currently leading party operations from London.
In a tweet earlier, PML-N leader Attaullah Tarar said that the PTI chief was “panicking after seeing his [possible] arrest and the nature of the cases against him”.
“There is only one way to change the conditions — dragging him by the ear and putting him in jail,” he added.
Imran was set to be indicted in the Toshakhana Reference on Feb 28, but his lawyer had requested ADSJ Zafar Iqbal that he be exempted from the hearing because he had to appear in several other courts. His indictment was deferred twice before.
The judge had then issued arrest warrants for Imran and adjourned the hearing till March 7.
The reference, which alleges that Imran had not shared details of the gifts he retained from the Toshaskhana (during his time as the prime minister) and proceeds from their reported sales, was filed by lawmakers from the ruling coalition last year. On October 21, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had concluded that the former premier had indeed made “false statements and incorrect declarations” regarding the gifts.
The Toshakhana is a department under the Cabinet Division that stores gifts given to rulers and government officials by heads of other governments and foreign dignitaries. According to Toshakhana rules, gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division.
The watchdog’s order had said Imran stood disqualified under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution.
Subsequently, the ECP had approached the Islamabad sessions court with a copy of the reference, seeking proceedings against Imran under criminal law for allegedly misleading officials about the gifts he received from foreign dignitaries during his tenure as the prime minister.