Police detain a supporter of Pakistan s former Prime Minister Imran Khan who along with others are protesting against the arrest of their leader, in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, May 11, 2023. Thursday, May 11, 2023. AP
Khan was arrested Tuesday on corruption charges and remanded in custody in a culmination of months of political crisis during which he has waged a campaign of defiance against Pakistan's military establishment.
But on Thursday Pakistan's top judge ordered police to bring Khan before the Supreme Court in response to a petition by his political party challenging the arrest.
"Your arrest was invalid so the whole process needs to be backtracked," Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial told Khan at the hearing in the capital Islamabad.
Khan told the court he had been "treated like a terrorist".
Security forces patrolled streets across Pakistan on Thursday and detained supporters of Khan.
Several thousand enraged supporters of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have for two days rampaged through cities around the country, setting fire to buildings and blocking roads.
At least nine people have died since Tuesday, police and hospitals said.
Hundreds of police officers have been injured and more than 2,000 people arrested, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, police added.
At least eight officials from PTI's central leadership accused of orchestrating the protests were also detained, Islamabad police said.
Security forces have responded with tear gas and water cannon to quell the crowds and on Thursday came equipped with batons and riot shields.
Supporters turning up to a protest venue in Karachi were swiftly rounded up while in Islamabad police beat handcuffed PTI supporters, AFP journalists witnessed.
'To civil war'
The former cricket superstar, who remains wildly popular, was ousted in April 2022 in a no-confidence vote in parliament after he lost the support of Pakistan's powerful military.
Khan has said the dozens of legal cases brought against him following his ousting are part of an effort by the government and the army to prevent him from returning to power ahead of elections due in the autumn.
The military earlier issued a strongly worded statement saying it was exercising "extreme restraint".
It warned of a "severe reaction" to any further attacks on state and military facilities, and said responsibility will lie with "a group that wants to push Pakistan into civil war".
Khan's party dismissed the statement as "contrary to facts and the situation on the ground".
Internet cut, social media blocked
The government on Wednesday approved the deployment of the army in two provinces -- including Punjab, the most populous -- and in the capital to restore peace.
Islamabad police said troops had overnight entered Islamabad's sensitive "red zone" where government buildings are housed.
The interior ministry has ordered mobile internet services cut and restricted access to social media sites Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Pakistan's communications agency said.
Authorities also closed schools nationwide -- with year-end exams cancelled.
"People should protest but it doesn't mean setting fire and damaging government property, or harming poor people and damaging their cars," said 45-year-old Syed Muzaffar Shah in the city of Peshawar.
Pakistan is struggling through a severe economic downturn, brought about in part by the deepening political instability of the past year, with the rupee plummeting to a record low against the dollar on Thursday.
Khan's arrest came hours after the military rebuked him for alleging that a senior officer was involved in a plot to assassinate him. The army has denied the accusation.
Criticism of Pakistan's military establishment is considered a red line.
Pakistani politicians have frequently been arrested and jailed since the country's founding in 1947.
But few have so directly challenged a military which holds significant influence over domestic politics and foreign policy and that has staged at least three coups and ruled for more than three decades.
Khan on Wednesday went before a specially convened court which remanded him in custody for eight days following a request by Pakistan's top anti-corruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau, one of his lawyers told AFP.
The agency earlier said Khan had ignored repeated court summons over alleged corruption linked to a trust fund he set up with his wife, a spiritual healer.
Khan was also indicted without being arrested over separate accusations he mislead officials about gifts he received from foreign leaders while in power, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all parties in the crisis to refrain from violence.