Islamabad: Pakistani police have filed terrorism charges against former Prime Minister Imran Khan, authorities said on Monday, escalating political tensions in the country as the ousted premier holds mass rallies seeking to return to office.
The terrorism charges came over a speech Khan gave in Islamabad on Saturday in which he vowed to sue police officers and a female judge and alleged that a close aide had been tortured after his arrest.
Khan himself has not immediately addressed the police charge sheet being lodged against him. 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.
Hundreds remained there early on Monday and police have yet to attempt to detain Khan, said Fawad Chaudhry, who served as information minister in Khan’s government. Tehreek-e-Insaf warned that it will hold nationwide rallies if Khan is arrested.
Khan’s lawyer Bawar Awan meanwhile filed a request to Islamabad’s High Court seeking protective bail for Khan, which would protect him from being arrested.
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. Typically, police then arrest and question the accused.
The report against Khan includes testimony from Magistrate Judge Ali Javed, who described being at the Islamabad rally on Saturday and hearing Khan criticise 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 could face several years in prison from the new charges, which accuse him of threatening police officers and the judge under the country’s sedition act, which stems from British colonial-era law. However, he’s not been detained on other lesser charges levied against him in his recent campaigning against the government.
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. .
Khan alleged without providing evidence that the Pakistani military took part in a US plot to oust him. Washington, the Pakistani military and Sharif’s government have all denied the allegation. Meanwhile, Khan has been carrying out a series of mass rallies trying to pressure the government.
In his latest speech on 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.
Police arrested Khan’s political aide, Shehbaz 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 with treason, which under Pakistani law carries the death penalty. ARY also remains off-air in Pakistan following that broadcast.