Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan, delivers a speech to a massive rally in Lahore on Aug. 13, 2022. Photo: Arif ALI / AFP
Tensions reached a boiling point as hundreds of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s supporters gathered outside his mansion in Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad late Sunday evening. His supporters assembled there in a bid to protect their leader from arrest after he was charged under the country’s anti-terror laws. If convicted, the cricket-hero turned politician could face several years in jail.
The country’s ruling government and Khan’s party have been at loggerheads in a bitter power struggle since the leader’s controversial ouster in April. As Pakistan braces itself from devastating floods and a major economic crisis, analysts warn the latest political developments threaten further public unrest.
Charges were filed against the politician following an impassioned speech he made at a rally on Saturday. In it, he threatened two officials with legal action – the capital city’s police chief and a judge – and accused the pair of being responsible for the arrest and alleged torture of his chief-of-staff Shahbaz Gill. “We won’t spare you,” Khan said, directly addressing the judge and top police chief. Gill was arrested on Aug. 9 on sedition charges that accuse him of inciting mutiny in the country’s most powerful institution, the military. Sedition charges in Pakistan carry the death penalty. Khan and his party members claim Gill has been tortured and sexually assaulted in police custody. Police and ministers from the government have denied allegations of extrajudicial torture against Gill. On Sunday, Pakistan’s media regulatory body banned live telecasts of Khan’s speeches and accused the former cricketer of spreading hate speech. Internet monitor NetBlocks has stated that the country’s internet services disrupted access to YouTube after Khan broadcasted a live speech on it. In the speech, he referred to “neutrals,” a sarcastic euphemism for the military. He claimed that local police “were under pressure by the neutrals to thrash” his party’s workers.
The police complaint against Khan argued that his speech was meant to “terrorise” top police officials and the judiciary. The politician has been granted protective bail till Thursday. Speaking at a press conference, a senior leader from Imran Khan’s party, Fawad Chaudhry, claimed that there was “no legal basis” for the police complaint against Imran Khan, and that “the country is practically under martial law.”
Khan’s party members have urged their followers to take to the streets in rallies against Khan’s impending arrest. “If Imran Khan is arrested… we will take over Islamabad with people’s power,” Khan’s former cabinet minister, Ali Amin Gandapur, said on Twitter. While Imran Khan’s supporters prepare to push back against his possible arrest, a senior political analyst foresees the charges being contested in Pakistan’s top court. “Every regime in Pakistan tries to pin down their political opponents by invoking the anti-terror act, which does not sustain in the Supreme Court, this has been proven time and time again,” Mubashir Zaidi told VICE World News. Khan was removed from office following a no-confidence vote in parliament against him in April. Since then, Khan has held large rallies across the country and called for fresh elections in the country. He has claimed that his ouster was orchestrated by a conspiracy between his opposition parties and the United States, an allegation which the U.S. State Department and the Pakistani military have denied.