Pakistan Court Blocks Arrest of Ex-PM Nawaz Sharif Upon Return From Self-Exile

Motorcyclists and cars drive past welcoming banners for Pakistan's self-exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, installed along a highway in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Oct. 19, 2023.

In a rare ruling, a federal court in Pakistan restrained authorities Thursday from arresting the convicted former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, upon his return to the country this coming weekend after four years in self-imposed exile.

A two-member panel of judges approved Sharif's appeal for protective bail until he appears before the high court in Islamabad on October 24, his lawyers told reporters in the Pakistani capital. "Meanwhile, he shall not be arrested on his arrival in Pakistan until he surrenders before this court," the ruling read.

The verdict paved the way for the former three-time prime minister to return to the country on Saturday, where his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party said that he would address a homecoming rally in his native eastern city of Lahore the same day.

Sharif was convicted of corruption charges in 2018 in two cases and sentenced collectively to 14 years in prison. He denied the allegations, claiming the powerful Pakistani military orchestrated his ouster from power in 2017 and subsequent court convictions.

In 2019, a provincial high court, in an unprecedented ruling, allowed the veteran politician to travel to London for medical treatment for four weeks, accepting his undertaking that he would return to serve his prison term. Sharif failed to come back to Pakistan and was subsequently declared an absconder.

Defense attorney Azam Nazir Tarar said Thursday that Sharif would pursue his pending appeals against his convictions, hoping they would be overturned to allow the former Pakistani leader to campaign for the general elections, which are due in late January.

"It is everyone's constitutional right to do political activities freely," said Tarar, a former Pakistani law minister and member of Sharif's party.

Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of the self-exiled former Pakistani leader, hailed Thursday's court ruling in a post on the X social media platform.

"He was implicated in absurd cases and subjected to mistreatment. Any fair hearing would have established his innocence," said the younger Sharif, who served as prime minister from 2022 until this past August.

Pakistan's military has launched several coups against elected prime ministers since the country gained independence from Britain in 1947 and ruled the country for more than three decades.

The last coup was staged by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999, which ousted Nawaz Sharif during his second stint in office, leading to a decade of military rule in Pakistan. The deposed prime minister was later convicted and sentenced to prison on controversial terrorism charges.

Sharif was later allowed to go into exile with his family at the intervention of Saudi Arabia. He returned to Pakistan in 2007 and became the prime minister in 2013 for a record third time after his party won the elections.