Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former prime minister, has been charged under the country’s anti-terrorism act, in the latest chapter of the tense struggle for power with Pakistan’s current government since his ouster.
Sunday’s move came a day after Khan addressed a rally and criticized top police officials and a judge for the arrest of his chief of staff. Police said in a charge report that Khan had threatened the officials.
“The way Imran Khan made his speech and the threats he made led to fear and terror among the police, judiciary and the common people and it harmed the peace of country,” they wrote in the report.
Since Khan was ousted from power in April, he has held boisterous rallies castigating the government. The former cricket star has maintained his strong political base and gained momentum in local elections. By contrast, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who replaced Khan, has made little progress in addressing the dire economic crisis that sent consumer prices skyrocketing.
Khan “will have to face the law for threatening and hurling abuses at the Magistrate and Police officers. Such acts of brazen thuggery are responsible for instigating extremism in society,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah tweeted early Monday.
Hours after news of the charge broke, hundreds of Khan’s supporters gathered outside his residence in Islamabad, the capital, in an effort to prevent his arrest.
“Imran Khan’s arrest is a ‘red line’ for us. If this line is crossed that would lead to something very bad, not good for the people and for the country,” said Murad Saeed, a senior official in the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which is led by Khan.
“We want to remain within the bounds of the constitution, but people are upset, very angry,” he said, warning that the popular unrest could “destroy” the sitting government.
With political tensions rising, Pakistan launches media crackdown
Saeed and other party leaders have called on thousands more to come to Islamabad and “protect their leader.”
Khan’s chief of staff, Shahbaz Gill, was arrested earlier this month after he made comments on a talk show that the government deemed “anti-military.” Khan alleges that Gill was tortured during his imprisonment, a claim the government denies.
Khan and his party already faced a partial media ban. Authorities have prohibited the live broadcast of his speeches, and the news channel that Gill made his remarks on was banned. Two news anchors associated with the same channel fled the country after reportedly being harassed by the government.
Khan was removed from office in April by a no-confidence vote in Parliament that took place after repeated delays.
He swept to power in 2018, promising to build a “new Pakistan” — an Islamic welfare state based on opportunity, justice and independence for the impoverished Muslim-majority nation of 220 million people.
But he struggled to manage the economy amid rampant inflation and rising foreign debt. He also clashed with the country’s military leadership and lost political allies, who slowly gathered enough support to challenge him and accused him of nearly bankrupting Pakistan.
Khan is the first leader to be removed by a legally held vote since Pakistan was founded in 1947. Previous prime ministers have had their tenures cut short by either a military coup or another form of extralegal interference.
Khan claimed his ouster was backed by the United States. He did not provide evidence for that claim, and the State Department has denied involvement.