Pakistan is experiencing a tense and volatile atmosphere as the country awaits the hearing of former prime minister Imran Khan on corruption charges, following his dramatic arrest. Local media have reported at least two deaths amid demonstrations throughout Pakistan. Authorities have designated a police guest house as the “courtroom” for Wednesday’s hearing. Since Mr. Khan’s arrest, police have carried out raids and arrested supporters of his party.
The former international cricket star is facing numerous charges related to corruption and sedition, which he believes are politically motivated. Pictures early on Wednesday showed lines of officers in front of the police guest house in the capital Islamabad. Mr. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party reported that he has not had access to legal counsel, and that the party will challenge the legality of his arrest in court.
Other photos depict scores of vehicles badly burned in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, after overnight protests. Mobile internet services remain inaccessible across the country, with telecommunication authorities stating they have suspended services on the instructions of the interior ministry. Schools also remain closed, some highways have been blocked, and there is little traffic on the roads in major cities. Protests are expected to continue on Wednesday, with some demonstrators planning to march to Islamabad, and the PTI calling for a nationwide strike.
Mr. Khan’s supporters have also taken to the streets in the UK, US, and Canada, among other countries, following his detention. Speaking to the BBC’s Newshour, Mr. Khan’s spokesman, Raoof Hasan, said he expected “the worst,” and that the arrest could plunge the country “into chaos and anarchy.”
The arrest of Mr. Khan is the latest development in an escalating political battle between him and Pakistan’s powerful army. Many analysts believe that Mr. Khan’s election win in 2018 happened with the military’s help. However, now in opposition, he has become one of the military’s most vocal critics. Mr. Khan was ousted as prime minister in April last year and has been campaigning for early elections since then. The polls are due to be held later this year.
Hours before his arrest, party officials released a pre-recorded video by Mr. Khan, in which he urged supporters to come out in support of “true freedom.” The international community has also responded to the chaos in Pakistan, with the EU stating in a statement on Tuesday that “restraint and cool-headedness are needed” in these tense times. The statement further asserted that “Pakistan’s challenges can only be addressed and its pathway can only be determined by Pakistanis themselves, through sincere dialogue and in line with the rule of law.” A spokesman from the US State Department called for the “respect of democratic principles and the rule of law around the world.”