Pakistani court bars police from arresting former prime minister Khan

ISLAMABAD — A Pakistani court on Thursday barred police from arresting the former prime minister Imran Khan by the end of the month, officials said.

Imran Khan has been accused of making verbal threats to police officers and a judge in his speech at a rally over the weekend. The latest development comes days after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government leveled terrorism charges against Khan, escalating political tensions and prompting national condemnation from his Tehreek-e-Insaf party.

Khan’s lawyer Babar Awan had earlier asked the court to release Khan, who is the country’s popular opposition leader. Arriving at the court, Khan was asked to walk towards the courtroom as usual suspects do. The court agreed to extend Khan’s protection from arrest until September 1.

Hundreds of Khan’s supporters gathered outside the court building, chanting slogans against Sharif’s government. The protesters said Khan was being politically victimized by the Sharif government. Khan later left the court for his home on the outskirts of Islamabad.

Sharif replaced Khan in April when he was ousted by a vote of no confidence in parliament. Legal experts say Khan could face anywhere from a few months to 14 years in prison, the equivalent of a life sentence, if he is found guilty by a court during his yet-to-be-started trial on terrorism charges.

Khan’s appearance Thursday before an anti-terrorism tribunal amid heightened security was the latest development in the saga between Pakistan’s government and Khan, who has been holding mass rallies as he tries to return to power.

Read more: Why Pakistan’s plans to muzzle Imran Khan may backfire

Khan is also scheduled to appear before the Islamabad High Court on August 31 to face contempt proceedings on charges of threatening a judge. His conviction in this case will mean a lifetime disqualification from politics under Pakistani law. No convicted person can apply.

It is the second time Khan – a former cricket star turned Islamist politician – has faced contempt charges. After the 1993 elections, he was summoned but pardoned by the Supreme Court after he described the judiciary’s conduct as “shameful” and said it did not guarantee free and fair elections.

Legal experts say Khan has limited options and could avoid a conviction if he apologizes for his remarks against Judge Zeba Chaudhry, when he told her to “get ready for this, we will also take action against you”.

After his ouster, Khan claimed – without providing evidence – that Pakistan’s powerful military was involved in a US plot to overthrow him. Washington, the Pakistani military and the government of Khan’s successor, Shahbaz Sharif, have denied the allegation.

Khan came to power promising to break the pattern of family rule in Pakistan. His opponents say he was elected with the help of the powerful army that has ruled the country for half of its 75-year history. After his ouster, Khan also called for early elections and vowed to topple Sharif’s government through “people’s pressure”.

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