ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan police imposed an emergency order banning gatherings in Islamabad as supporters of Imran Khan were expected to march to the capital on Friday where the former prime minister will appear for a court hearing under heavy security cover.
His arrest earlier this week, which sparked deadly unrest in the nuclear-armed nation, was ruled "invalid and unlawful" by the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party said thousands of "peaceful Pakistanis" will gather in Islamabad in solidarity with their leader, who police said was allowed to meet 10 people on Thursday night in a police guesthouse.
His arrest has aggravated instability in the country of 220 million people at a time of severe economic crisis - with record high inflation, anaemic growth and a delayed IMF funding - and escalated Khan's tussle with the powerful military.
Khan, 70, an international cricket hero-turned-politician, was to appear before the Islamabad High Court at 11 a.m. (0600 GMT) for a hearing on his petition challenging the anti-corruption action against him, on orders of the top court. Broadcaster Geo TV reported he was on the way to the courthouse.
"The manner of execution of the arrest warrant ... against petitioner is invalid and unlawful," the Supreme Court order said. "The execution of the said warrant violated the petitioner's right of access to justice and the sanctity and safety of the Court".
Hundreds of police and paramilitary troops were deployed around the court ahead of Khan's arrival and Geo reported that some roads nearby were cordoned off.
Mobile data services have been blocked since Tuesday evening, while access to social media platforms remained restricted. Many major roads and businesses have also remained shut, mainly in the eastern city of Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city and Khan's hometown.
Nearly 2,000 people have been arrested so far and at least eight killed after Khan's supporters clashed with police, attacked military establishments and set other state buildings and assets ablaze, prompting the government to call in the army to help restore order.
Khan was arrested a day after the powerful military rebuked him for repeatedly accusing a senior officer of trying to engineer his assassination and the former armed forces chief of being behind his removal from power last year.
The army has warned Khan's supporters that it will respond firmly if there are further attacks on its assets, saying in a statement on Wednesday that the violence on its installations was "pre-planned" and ordered by his party leadership.
Khan, who opponents say was brought to power through a rigged election in 2018 by the generals, has blamed the military for his ouster from office in April 2022 in a parliamentary no-confidence vote.
The army, which remains Pakistan's most powerful institution, having ruled it directly for close to half its 75-year history through three coups, has denied Khan's allegations.
(Writing by Shivam Patel; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)