Tensions have flared in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore after police arrived outside the home of former Prime Minister Imran Khan to arrest him for failing to appear in court on Monday over corruption charges.
Police on Tuesday fired tear gas and water cannon as hundreds of supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party gathered outside his residence. Police said they would arrest him by the end of Tuesday.
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Speaking to Al Jazeera from his home, Khan said the arrest attempt was “totally illegal” and politically motivated.
“[The government] want to remove me from the electoral contest because they are petrified by the popularity of my party,” he said.
Here is the interview, which has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Al Jazeera: Why wouldn’t you comply with the arrest warrant and let the rule of law do its course?
Khan: According to the law, I have protected bail until the 18th [of March]. So four days earlier, the police have arrived with an arrest warrant, which is totally illegal. So we are waiting for tomorrow morning where my lawyers will appear in court and challenge this warrant of arrest.
Al Jazeera: You have released a video asking your supporters to come out and fight for their freedom. Are you not worried that your message asking people to “fight” could result in violence?
Khan: “Fight for their freedom” means fight for their fundamental rights, which means peacefully protesting in what you believe … The constitution and the law of the land, what gives you the right to protest.
In France, people are protesting for pensions. In England, people are protesting because of inflation and pay rises. So protesting is part of the democratic process. Never in my 26 years in politics have I ever asked my [supporters] ever to be violent.
Al Jazeera: The arrest warrant relates to allegations you bought state gifts and concealed assets while in office as prime minister. How do you respond to that?
Khan: This is an absolutely fabricated allegation. There are 80 cases against me and in the last few months every other day there is a fresh case against me. There is a case of murder, there is a case of sedition, there is a case of blasphemy, a case of terrorism.
We have asked to go to the Supreme Court to ask them to club all the cases together … and hold them in a secure place because when I attended my two court appearances, there was no security. The government itself has said that my life is under threat, therefore, all we ask is for them to club all the cases together.
Al Jazeera: The government is saying the police will arrest you by the end of Tuesday. If that happens, what will it mean for your party and for the provincial and national elections?
Khan: I am mentally prepared. There is a huge [police] force outside [as if] Pakistan’s “biggest terrorist” was holed up inside.
The reason they want to arrest me is not because they are worried about the rule of law, but because the biggest criminals are now sitting in the government. They want to remove me from the electoral contest because they are petrified by the popularity of my party.
According to all opinion polls, we would sweep these upcoming elections and that is why they want me removed from the scene. The attempted murder [when Khan was shot in November] was because of that and now putting me in jail is exactly following the same script.
Al Jazeera: The real criminals are in Parliament, you say, but you are the only Pakistani prime minister to have been removed from power through a no-confidence vote. What makes you think this is not the end of your political career?
Khan: Normally when someone is removed from power it means they have to be ready for political wilderness for quite some time. In our past, governments have been removed from power, but always on corruption cases or very poor economic performances coupled with corruption cases … our government was not removed either because of corruption or because of lack of economic performance.
It was removed through a conspiracy, and that is why there has been such a public backlash.