Pakistani government ramps up pressure on ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan

ISLAMA BAD — The Pakistani government on Tuesday stepped up pressure on former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has held mass rallies to return to office, as a court in Islamabad stands ready to launch contempt proceedings over his verbal threats against a judge at a weekend rally. .

Meanwhile, at night in the Pakistani capital, police raided the apartment of Khan’s close associate Shahbaz Gill and handcuffed him for questioning.

The developments came two days after authorities filed a terrorism charge against Khan, escalating political tensions in the country. In a speech at a rally on Saturday, Khan vowed to charge police officers and a female judge, Zeba Chaudhry, alleging that Gill had been tortured after his first arrest earlier this month.

Khan, who came to power in 2018 and was ousted in a vote of no confidence in parliament in April, could face a lifelong ban from politics if convicted of insulting Chaudhry. The terrorism charge against him could carry a prison sentence of several months to 14 years, the equivalent of a life sentence.

Gill has been charged with treason for his recent anti-military remarks on a private ARY TV show in which he urged soldiers and officers to disobey “illegal” orders from military leaders. Gill’s treason charge carries the death penalty under an act of sedition under a British colonial-era law. ARY TV will remain off air in Pakistan after that broadcast.

Since his ouster, Khan has claimed – without providing evidence – that Pakistan’s powerful military participated in a US plot to oust him. Washington, the Pakistani military and the government of Khan’s successor, Shahbaz Sharif, have denied the allegations.

The latest trouble for Khan started during Saturday’s rally when he criticized Chaudhry, saying: “Get ready too, we will take action against you too. You should all be ashamed.”

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Sharif’s government is not happy with Khan for his threats and while courts usually pardon offenders if they apologize, some politicians have been convicted in the past for disobeying or insulting judges.

It was unclear whether Khan would attend Tuesday’s court hearing or send his lawyer.

Ahsan Bhoon, a lawyer who heads the Bar Association of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, welcomed the proceedings against Khan and said that no one should insult a judge or damage the reputation of the judiciary.

Khan came to power and vowed to break the pattern of family government in Pakistan. His opponents claim he was elected with the help of the powerful military, which has ruled the country for half of its 75-year history.

Since his ouster, Khan has also demanded snap elections and vowed to overthrow Sharif’s government due to ‘popular pressure’.

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