Pakistan's top court has ordered the anti-graft agency to release former Prime Minister Imran Khan from its custody amid violent and widespread protests sparked by his detention.
The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Imran Khan's arrest earlier this week, which sparked deadly protests across the South Asian country, was "illegal and invalid".
"Your arrest was invalid so the whole process needs to be backtracked," Pakistan's Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial told Khan, who has been in custody since Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, the court directed the the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to present the former premier before the court.
Subsequently, Khan was presented in court amid tight security about 5:45 pm local time. The top court’s order on Thursday came after Khan’s legal team challenged his arrest by the NAB on Tuesday.
The shock arrest has triggered violent protests across the country, prompting the government to call out the army to help restore order.
Tensions remained high on Thursday with paramilitary troops and police on the streets in big cities.
Supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have attacked military establishments and set other state buildings and assets ablaze.
A total of nearly 2,500 people have been arrested so far and at least 11 killed and dozens injured. Authorities have also arrested at least three senior leaders of PTI party as of Thursday.
Footage shared by an Islamabad police official showed military vehicles with mounted guns lined up on the side of a road and soldiers holding assault rifles.
Mobile data services remained suspended and schools and offices were closed in two of Pakistan’s four provinces. Social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram have been blocked.
More than 100 police cases have been registered against Khan by the government since his removal from power in April 2022 after he lost a confidence vote in parliament.
Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi, who is also a senior PTI leader, said he was “alarmed, shocked and deeply disturbed” over the situation in the country.
After his ouster in April last year, Khan accused an unnamed "foreign power" -- in a clear reference to the United States -- of funding a "conspiracy" to topple his democratically elected government.
Khan insisted that the "foreign power" sent millions of dollars to opposition parties to launch a no-confidence vote against him in the parliament.
The former prime minister has declared he fears for his life if detained, and that authorities want him jailed to prevent him from contesting an election.
Last year, Khan was shot in the leg during a political rally. Previous attempts to arrest Khan from his home in Lahore saw clashes between his supporters and security forces.