Booted out earlier this year by a no-confidence vote in Parliament, former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has claimed that him being kicked out was a conspiracy between the US, the Pakistani military and his successor, and he’s been hosting mass rallies in a bid to return to office. Khan has publicly criticized state officials and police, reportedly saying that he and his supporters will “take action” against them. In a recent rally in Islamabad, he focused primarily on Shahbaz Gill’s arrest – his political aide charged with treason after urging officers and soldiers to disobey “illegal orders” from military leaders. During this same speech, Khan reportedly threatened to sue police officers and a female judge and alleged that Gill was tortured.
On Sunday, authorities filed terrorism charges against Khan following his speech. The government also banned live broadcasts of his speeches on TV. Under Pakistan’s 1997 anti-terrorism law, police were given broader powers amid a wave of sectarian violence. The law has also targeted other politicians, and critics say it can be used for political purposes and sidestep constitutional protections. But, a court issued a “protective bail” for Khan, which means he can’t yet be arrested. Supporters have been gathering outside of Khan’s home to block any attempts to arrest him. On Thursday, Khan must appear before an anti-terrorism court and receive further protective bail to avoid jail. One criminal law expert told Al Jazeera that it’s unlikely the court will reject the bail, but we can all only wait and see how this unfolds. Most recently, Khan has been summoned to appear before the court again next week on additional contempt charges.
“You also get ready for it, we will also take action against you. All of you must be ashamed," Khan reportedly said at his Saturday rally.
“If Imran Khan is arrested … we will take over Islamabad with people’s power," tweeted a former minister in Khan’s cabinet, Ali Amin Gandapur.
“It is perfect case of quashment before the high court. Terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 has a very restricted application in limited circumstances. Simply saying ‘we will take action against you’ does not amount to terrorism. It does not even amount to criminal intimidation under the Pakistan penal code," said constitutional expert Abuzar Salman Niazi.
“If the authorities feel that Khan’s remarks constitute incitement to violence or constituted a real threat to public officials, there are other laws which can be used to prosecute him," said John Sifton, Human Rights Watch’s Asia advocacy director.
“The court … summons him to appear before the court in person on August 31," Jahangir Khan Jadoon, Advocate General Islamabad, told Reuters.