Police file terrorism charges against Pakistani Imran Khan

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani police have filed terrorism charges against former prime minister Imran Khan, authorities said Monday, heightening political tensions in the country as the ousted prime minister holds mass rallies to return to office.

The terrorism charges follow a speech Khan gave in Islamabad on Saturday in which he pledged to prosecute police officers and a female judge and alleged that a close aide was tortured after his arrest.

Khan himself still appeared free and did not immediately respond to the police indictment filed against him. Khan’s political party – Tehreek-e-Insaf, now in opposition – posted videos online showing supporters surrounding his home to potentially prevent police from reaching him.

Hundreds of people stayed there early Monday. Tehreek-e-Insaf warned that he would hold rallies across the country if Khan was arrested.

Under the Pakistani legal system, the police file what is known as a first information report on the charges against an accused with an investigative judge, which allows the investigation to progress. Generally, the police arrest and question the accused.

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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 Pakistani Police and another judge. Khan reportedly went on to say, “You too get ready, 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 the judge. However, he was not detained on other less serious charges brought against him during his recent campaign against the government.

Pakistan’s justice system also has a history of politicization and taking sides in power struggles between the military, civilian government and opposition politicians, according to the Washington-based advocacy group Freedom House.

Khan came to power in 2018, promising to break the pattern of family rule in Pakistan. His opponents argue he was elected with the help of the mighty military, which has ruled the country for half of its 75-year history.

Seeking Khan’s ouster earlier this year, the opposition accused him of economic mismanagement as inflation soars and the value of the Pakistani rupee plummets. Parliament’s no-confidence vote in April that ousted Khan capped months of political turmoil and a constitutional crisis that forced the Supreme Court to intervene. During this time, it seems that the army had also grown cold towards Khan.

Khan alleged without providing evidence that the Pakistani military had participated in a US plot to oust him. Washington, the Pakistani military and the government of Khan’s successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, have all denied this. Meanwhile, Khan held a series of mass rallies in an attempt to pressure Sharif’s government.

In his final speech on Sunday evening at a rally in the town of Rawalpindi outside Islamabad, Khan said so-called “neutrals” were behind the recent crackdown on his party. He has in the past used the term “neutral” for the military.

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On Sunday, internet access advocacy group NetBlocks said the country’s internet services blocked access to YouTube after Khan broadcast a live speech on the platform despite a ban issued by the Authority. Pakistani Electronic Media Regulator.

Police arrested Khan’s political aide Shahbaz Gill earlier this month after he appeared on private broadcaster ARY TV and urged soldiers and officers to refuse to obey ‘orders illegals” of military leaders. Gill was charged with treason, which under Pakistani law carries the death penalty. ARY also stays off the air in Pakistan after this show.

Khan alleged that police abused Gill while in police custody. According to police, Gill suffers from asthma and was not ill-treated while in custody. Khan’s speech on Saturday in Islamabad focused mainly on Gill’s arrest.

Meanwhile, police have separately arrested journalist Jameel Farooqi in Karachi over his allegations that Gill was tortured by police. Farooqi is a strong supporter of Khan.

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report

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