Another Pakistan court protects ex-PM Imran Khan from arrest

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Another Pakistani court on Monday ruled in defense of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, granting him protection from arrest as lawsuits mounted against him. Police have charged the ousted premier with incitement to violence in several cases when his followers clashed with security forces this month.

The latest reprieve for Khan comes as a political crisis roils Pakistan, pitting the former cricket star turned Islamist politician against the government of his successor, Shahbaz Sharif, and spilling into violence in the streets.

Khan was ousted through a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April. Since then, the 70-year-old opposition leader has had more than 100 legal cases filed against him, including on charges of terrorism, incitement to violence and graft while in office.

He has unsuccessfully campaigned for early elections, and has claimed, without providing evidence, that there are numerous plots to assassinate him.

The Islamabad High Court on Monday ruled that Khan cannot be arrested — at least for another week — in seven separate cases over March 18 clashes between his followers and police outside a court in the Pakistani capital where Khan was to appear on graft charges.

Khan’s supporters hurled stones at the officers and scuffled with police, who fired tear gas and beat the crowd with batons. Islamabad police have since then arrested nearly 400 Khan supporters over that and other incidents.

As Khan arrived for the hearing and walked into the Islamabad court earlier on Monday under tight security, his bodyguards held up bulletproof shields around him for protection. Police also detained Khan’s personal photographer at the scene and several Khan followers.

Footage distributed on social media shows police dragging, pushing and shoving detained Khan followers into a police truck parked near the court. In their crackdown on Khan’s supporters, police last week also detained Azhar Mashwani, the head of Khan’s social media team, and others.

Monday’s ruling echoed those of a court in the eastern city of Lahore which recently granted multiple bails to the former prime minister. Under Pakistani law, such court decisions shield a suspect from arrest.

Khan has mostly avoided court appearances since last November, when he was wounded in a gun attack at a protest rally in the eastern Punjab province. One of his supporters was killed and 13 were wounded in that attack.