ISLAMABAD — Pakistani police have filed terrorism charges against the former prime minister Imran Khanauthorities said on Monday, escalating political tensions in the country as the ousted prime minister held mass rallies in a bid to return to office.
The terrorism charges come over a speech Khan gave in Islamabad on Saturday in which he vowed to prosecute police officers and a female judge and claimed a close aide had been tortured after his arrest.
Khan himself appeared to be still at large and did not immediately address the police charge sheet filed against him. Khan’s political party – Tehreek-e-Insaf, now in opposition – posted videos online showing supporters surrounding his home to prevent police from reaching him.
Hundreds remained there early Monday. Tehreek-e-Insaf has warned that it will hold nationwide rallies if Khan is arrested.
Under of Pakistan legal system, the police submit what is known as a first information report about charges against an accused to a magistrate who allows the investigation to move forward. The police usually then arrest and question the accused.
The report against Khan included testimony from Magistrate Judge Ali Javed, who described being at the rally in Islamabad on Saturday and hearing Khan criticize Pakistan’s inspector general of police and another judge. Han continued to say, “You also prepare for this, we will also take action against you. You should all be ashamed.”
Khan could face several years in prison on the new charges, which accuse him of threatening police officers and a judge. However, he has not been detained on other lesser charges brought against him in his recent campaign against the government.
Pakistan’s judiciary also has a history of politicization and taking sides in power struggles between the military, the civilian government and opposition politicians, according to the Washington-based advocacy group Freedom House.
Khan came to power in 2018 promising to break Pakistan’s model of family rule. 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.
In seeking Khan’s ouster earlier this year, the opposition accused him of economic mismanagement as inflation soared and the value of the Pakistani rupee plummeted. The no-confidence vote in parliament in April that ousted Khan ended months of political turmoil and a constitutional crisis that forced the Supreme Court to intervene. Meanwhile, the military also seems to have cooled on Khan.
Khan claimed, without providing evidence, that the Pakistani military was involved in a US plot to remove him. Washington, Pakistan Army and government of the Khan’s successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, all denied this. Meanwhile, Khan has been holding a series of mass rallies, trying to put pressure on Sharif’s government.
In his latest speech on Sunday night at a rally in the city of Rawalpindi outside Islamabad, Khan said so-called “neutrals” were behind the recent crackdown on his party. In the past, he has used the term “neutrals” for the military.
On Sunday, internet access advocacy group NetBlocks said the country’s internet services blocked access to YouTube after Khan broadcast a speech live on the platform despite a ban issued by Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
Police arrested Khan’s political aide, Shahbaz Gill, earlier this month after he appeared on private television channel ARY TV and called on soldiers and officers to refuse to obey “illegal orders” from the military leadership. Gill was charged with treason, which under Pakistani law carries the death penalty. ARY also remains off air in Pakistan after this telecast.
Khan alleged that the police mistreated Gill while he was in custody. Police say Gill suffers from asthma and was not abused while in custody. Khan’s speech in Islamabad on Saturday focused mainly on Gill’s arrest.
Meanwhile, the police separately arrested journalist Jameel Farooqui in Karachi over his allegations that Gill was tortured by the police. Farooqi has been a vocal supporter of Khan.
—Associated Press writer John Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report
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