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Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, is charged with terrorism

The former premier and cricket star’s connection to terrorism charges causes political tensions to deepen.

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Authorities in Pakistan announced Monday that they had filed terrorism charges against former Prime Minister Imran Khan, raising the stakes politically as the deposed leader continues to rally supporters at massive rallies in an attempt to win back power.

The accusations stem from a speech Khan gave on Saturday in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, in which he claimed that a close aide had been tortured following his arrest and vowed to sue police officers and a female judge.

Khan, for his part, has remained silent on the matter of the new allegations. According to Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a senior leader in Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf opposition party, a court in Islamabad issued so-called protective bail for Khan for the next three days, preventing police from arresting him on the charges.

On Monday, hundreds of Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters gathered outside Khan’s house while he hosted meetings inside. The party has threatened nationwide rallies if Khan is detained while he is trying to have the charges against him dropped in court.

In Pakistan, the investigation into criminal charges begins when the police submit what is called a “first information report” to a magistrate judge. After making an arrest, police usually question the suspect.

Magistrate Judge Ali Javed, who attended the rally in Islamabad on Saturday and heard Khan criticize the inspector-general of Pakistan’s police and another judge, testified against Khan in the report. Then, Khan allegedly added, “You also get ready for it — we will also take action against you. All of you must be ashamed.”

Although Khan has not been detained on other, lesser charges levied against him in his recent campaign against the government, he could face several years in prison on the new charges, which accuse him of threatening police officers and the judge under the country’s sedition act, which originates from the British colonial era.

According to Freedom House, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group, the Pakistani judiciary has a long history of being politicized and taking sides in power struggles between the military, the civilian government, and opposition politicians. Current Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif is expected to discuss the charges against Khan at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Khan took office in 2018, campaigning on a platform to end decades of family rule in Pakistan, but his critics say he only got elected with the help of Pakistan’s powerful military, which has ruled the country for 30 of its 75 years.

The opposition had sought Khan’s removal earlier this year, accusing him of economic mismanagement amid soaring inflation and the plunging value of the Pakistani rupee. Khan was ultimately removed from office in April following months of political turmoil and a constitutional crisis that required the intervention of the Supreme Court.

Khan has been holding a series of mass rallies in an effort to exert pressure on the government. He has claimed, without providing evidence, that the Pakistani military is complicit in a U.S. plot to remove him from office. Both the United States and Pakistan have denied the claim.

Most recently, Khan blamed “neutrals” for the recent crackdown against his party in a speech he gave at a rally in Rawalpindi, a city outside Islamabad, on Sunday night. He has previously used it to refer to the armed forces.

Our party will soon be backed up against the wall, according to the plan. As Khan foretold, “I assure you that the Sri Lankan situation is going to happen here,” referring to the recent economic protests that toppled the government in Sri Lanka.

For the time being, we are acting in accordance with the law and constitution, but who knows what would happen if one of the political parties in Pakistan deviated from that course, given that the country has a population of over 220 million?

Even though Khan’s party has been holding massive protests, the government and security forces of Pakistan are worried that the former cricket star’s popularity could still bring millions out onto the streets, putting even more pressure on the nuclear-armed nation as it tries to secure a $7 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund to deal with an economic crisis exacerbated by rising global food prices due in part to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

According to a report published on Sunday by internet access advocacy group NetBlocks, internet services in the country blocked access to YouTube after Khan continued to stream the speech on the site despite a ban issued by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.

Earlier this month, police arrested Shahbaz Gill, a political aide to Khan, 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. Treason in Pakistan carries the death penalty, and ARY TV is still off the air in Pakistan.

Police say Gill has asthma and has not been abused while detained, despite Khan’s claims to the contrary.

On Monday, Gill was released from the hospital in preparation for a hearing to determine whether he should be sent back to prison. He appeared healthy on television as he left for the court amid tight security.

On Saturday in Islamabad, Khan primarily addressed the arrest of Gill.

Jameel Farooqi, a journalist and outspoken supporter of Khan, was detained in Karachi after making allegations that Gill had been tortured by police.

The Los Angeles Times was the first to publish this story.