By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -A Pakistan court on Thursday barred authorities from arresting a former three-time prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, upon his expected return home on Saturday from four years in self-imposed exile, his lawyer said.
Lawyer Azam Nazeer Tarar told reporters that Sharif had been granted protective bail, under which authorities could not arrest him until he himself appears before a court on Oct. 24, adding that Sharif would address a rally in the city of Lahore upon his return.
Sharif’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, was prime minister from 2022 until this year, when his government was replaced by a caretaker administration upon the dissolution of parliament in advance of a general election due early next year.
The younger Sharif welcomed the court’s decision.
“He was implicated in absurd cases and subjected to mistreatment,” Shehbaz Sharif said on the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter.
“Any fair hearing would have established his innocence.”
Nawaz Sharif was in 2018 convicted on corruption charges, which he denied, in two cases and sentenced to a total of 14 years in prison.
A court allowed him to travel to London for medical treatment in 2019 under a rare surety bond, under which he undertook to return after treatment. Later, he was declared an absconder after failing to return.
The veteran politician has said he was ousted as prime minister in 2017 by leaders of the powerful military and the judiciary after he fell out with the generals.
The military, which has ruled Pakistan for extended periods since independence in 1947 and retains significant influence, even over civilian government, denies that.
Tarar said Sharif would follow up appeals against his convictions, which have been pending since he left, in the hope of overturning them and campaigning for the general election.
Upon his return on Saturday, he would address a rally in his old stronghold of Lahore, Tarar said.
“It is everyone’s constitutional rights to freely do political activities,” Tarar said.
Sharif’s party has said he would like to contest a seat in the general election but that would depend on the court over-turning his convictions.
Groomed by the military when he entered politics in the late 1970s, Sharif fell out with then army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, during a second stint as prime minister and was ousted in a 1999 coup.
Musharraf ruled for nearly a decade when Pakistan, which supported the U.S.-led “war on terror”, was rocked by Islamist militant violence. Sharif returned to Pakistan and to politics in 2007.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Robert Birsel)