ISLAMABAD — Pakistani police have filed terrorism charges against former Prime Minister Imran Khan, authorities said Monday, escalating political tensions in the country as the ousted premier holds mass rallies seeking to return to office.
Khan was accused of terrorist acts after he spoke in Islamabad, Pakistan on Saturday. Khan said he would sue female judges and police officers for their actions and claimed that an aide to him had been tortured since his arrest.
Khan appeared to be still free, and had not yet addressed the charges against him by police. Khan’s political party — Tehreek-e-Insaf, now in the opposition — published online videos showing supporters surrounding his home to potentially stop police from reaching it.
Many remained on Monday morning. Khan’s arrest would result in Tehreek-e-Insaf warning that they will organize rallies across the country.
Under Pakistan’s legal system, police file what is known as a first information report about charges against an accused person to a magistrate judge, who allows the investigation to move forward. Police typically arrest the suspect and then question him.
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The report against Khan includes testimony from Magistrate Judge Ali Javed, who described being at the Islamabad rally on Saturday and hearing Khan criticize the inspector-general of Pakistan’s police and another judge. Khan went on to reportedly say: “You also get ready for it, we will also take action against you. All of you must be ashamed.”
Khan may spend several years behind bars for the new charges against him, in which he is accused of intimidating police officers and the judge. However, he’s not been detained on other lesser charges levied against him in his recent campaigning against the government.
Freedom House in Washington reports that Pakistan’s judiciary is also known for politicizing and participating in power struggles among the civilian government, military and opposition.
Khan was elected to power in 2018 promising to end Pakistan’s tradition of family rule. Khan’s opponents claim he was elected through the support of the powerful military which has ruled Pakistan for over half its 75-year history.
In seeking Khan’s ouster earlier this year, the opposition had accused him of economic mismanagement as inflation soars and the Pakistani rupee plummets in value. The parliament’s no-confidence vote in April that ousted Khan capped months of political turmoil and a constitutional crisis that required the Supreme Court to step in. In the meantime, Khan seemed to have cooled similarly in military circles.
Khan claimed without providing any proof that the Pakistani military participated in a U.S. conspiracy to exile him. Washington, the Pakistani military and the government of Khan’s successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, have all denied that. Meanwhile, Khan has been carrying out a series of mass rallies trying to pressure Sharif’s government.
In his latest speech Sunday night at a rally in the city of Rawalpindi outside of Islamabad, Khan said so-called “neutrals” were behind the recent crackdown against his party. He has in the past used the phrase “neutrals” for the military.
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NetBlocks, an advocacy group for internet access and privacy said that YouTube was blocked in Pakistan after Khan gave a speech live on YouTube despite a ban by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
Police arrested Khan’s political aide, Shahbaz Gill, earlier this month after he appeared on the private television channel ARY TV and urged soldiers and officers to refuse to obey “illegal orders” from the military leadership. Gill was charged under Pakistani law with treason. This carries the death sentence. ARY is still off-air in Pakistan after the broadcast.
Khan claimed that Gill was assaulted by officers while being held. Gill is said to have asthma, and police claim that Gill was not subjected to abuse while in custody. Khan’s speech Saturday in Islamabad focused primarily on Gill’s arrest.
Jameel Farooqi, a journalist in Karachi was also detained by police over allegations that Gill had suffered torture. Farooqi has been a strong supporter Khan.
—This report was contributed by Jon Gambrell, an Associated Press journalist in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
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