PTI Chief Imran Khan has been arrested from his Lahore residence shortly after he was slapped with a five-year disqualification and three-year prison term in the Toshakhana criminal case.
An Islamabad sessions court handed down the jail sentence on Saturday after finding Khan guilty of ‘corrupt practices.’
Imran Khan’s lawyers failed to show up before the court despite repeated calls on Saturday. The judge warned of passing the judgement, which was issued by 12:30pm.
Within half an hour, police whisked him away from his Zaman Park residence in Lahore, PTI sources told Aaj News, though there was no official word on the arrest.
Khan will likely challenge the judgement before the higher judiciary, which may overturn it. But if the decision is upheld, the former prime minister faces an ouster from the general elections scheduled later this year.
The five-year election ban is not part of the Saturday judgment but kicks in immediately because under the constitution a convicted person is disqualified from public office for five years.
The more immediate concern for Khan is to stay out of prison. The sessions court also issued arrest warrants for the PTI chief and instructed the Islambad Inspector General of Police to execute the same.
Reports from Lahore said Khan was arrested from his Zaman Park residence within half an hour after the sentencing by the Islamabad court.
PTI sources said police whisked away Khan from the back door.
There were conflicting reports about Khan’s whereabouts. While initial reports suggested he was to be held at the Kot Lakhpat prison which is officially called the Lahore Central Prison, other sources said the police were moving him to Islamabad.
There was no official word on the arrest but PTI’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi confirmed the development saying the police arrived at Zaman Park as the breaking about Khan’s sentencing was being aired.
In a phon-in conversation with Aaj News, Qureshi questioned why Judge Humayun Dilawar was not removed from the case despite repeated PTI demands. He said he was not in contact with the PTI leadership and was receiving updates from TV channels. .
Lahore authorities have also installed barricades on the roads leading to Zaman Park.
In Islamabad, the authorities were planning to deploy more security personnel on the streets of the federal capital, sources told Aaj News.
Security had already been beefed up at the court premises in the morning.
Imran Khan has also been slapped with an Rs100,000 fine in the criminal case.
Multiple calls for Khan’s lawyers
Additional District and Sessions Judge Humayun Dilawar started the hearing at 8:30am on Saturday morning as per schedule. However, no one from the PTI appeared before the court. The hearing was postponed multiple times.
When the court met for the third time at 10:30am, Khalid Chaudhry, who is an assistant to Khan’s lawyer Barrister Gohar, appeared before the court and told the judge that Khan’s primary counsel Khawaja Haris was at the NAB Court.
The judge asked if Haris was presenting arguments at the NAB Court. Chaudhry said he was not presenting arguments but was in the courtroom and will appear before the sessions court later in the day.
The judge said Haris had until 12pm to appear before the court. In the event, he failed to show up the court will hand down its judgment, said the judge.
When the court met for a fourth time at 12pm, Haris was nowhere to be seen. The judge said that he will give a judgment at 12:30pm
Haris finally arrived at the court at around 12:30pm. However, by the time the judge had started giving the decision and he turned down Haris’ plea for more time.
On Saturday, Khan’s lawyers were supposed to appear before the court to present their argument against the admissibility of the Toshakhana criminal case.
The Islamabad High Court on Friday granted an appeal by Khan and overturned the sessions court’s decision that the case was maintainable.
Ordering Judge Dilawar to hear the admissability question again, the IHC told Khan’s lawyers that they must present their argument before the sessions court.
In his judgment on Saturday, the sessions court again declared that the case was maintainable. It also struck off Khan’s right of defence once again.
Security beefed up
Meanwhile, the authorities have beefed up security at the sessions court deploying additional policemen and Frontier Constabulary personnel at the premises. Barbed wires were also seen everywhere.
Some of the police personnel wore riot gear to deal with possible protests.
The measures were taken a day after the Islamabad Bar issued a letter against Judge Dilawar, condemning his ‘behaviour’.
Judge Dilawar and Khan’s lawyer exchanged harsh words during the hearing on Friday with the judge indicating that he could bar one of the lawyers from entering the court.
The criminal proceedings against Imran Khan stem from a petition filed by the Election Commission of Pakistan under section 190(2) of the Election Act.
Imran Khan has been accused of selling state gifts on the market to make money. He was entitled to retain gifts from Toshakhana —a state repository where all the gifts received by government officials are deposited before they could take them home after completing the due process — but not to sell them on the market to make a profit, claims the Election Commission of Pakistan, which filed a petition against the former prime minister accusing him of “corrupt practice.”
The PTI says retaining state gifts or even selling them on the market was not a crime. It challenged the criminal proceedings against Khan before the high court.