Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has called for nationwide “freedom” protests on Sunday after his brief arrest and detention last week triggered deadly unrest.
The one-time cricket superstar – who has been tied up in dozens of legal cases since being ousted from power in April 2022 – was freed on bail on Friday after his detention was declared unlawful by the supreme court.
Enraged by the arrest, supporters set fire to government buildings, blocked roads and damaged property belonging to the military, which they blame for Khan’s downfall.
“Freedom does not come easily. You have to snatch it. You have to sacrifice for it,” he said on YouTube on Saturday night.
He called for his supporters to hold protests “at the end of your streets and villages” across the country on Sunday, and announced a return to campaigning on Wednesday for immediate elections.
For months the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leader has waged a campaign of defiance against the military.
His arrest on Tuesday came just hours after he was rebuked for claiming senior officials were involved in an assassination attempt against him in 2022.
Pakistan’s powerful military has directly ruled the country off and on for nearly half of its 75-year history, and continues to wield power over the political system.
“The army chief’s actions have made our military bad. It is because of him, not because of me,” Khan said from his home in Lahore, although it was unclear whether he meant the serving chief, or his predecessor, whom Khan has held responsible for his ouster.
He previously told reporters that “one man, the army chief” was behind his arrest.
But Khan distanced himself from the attacks against the military’s installations at the protests, denying his party workers were involved and calling for an independent investigation into the violence.
The army, which denies the accusations made by Khan, on Saturday warned against attempts to create “misperceptions” against the institution.
At least nine people died in the unrest last week with hundreds of police officers injured and more than 4,000 people detained, according to authorities.