ISLAMABAD — A Pakistani court on Thursday barred police from arresting former premier Imran Khan through the end of the month, officials said.
Imran Khan is accused of making verbal threats to police officers and a judge in his speech at a rally over the weekend. The latest development comes days after the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif leveled terrorism charges against Khan, escalating political tensions and drawing nationwide condemnation from his Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
Earlier, Khan’s lawyer Babar Awan requested the court to grant bail to Khan, who is the country’s popular opposition leader. Arriving at court, Khan was asked to walk toward the courtroom as ordinary suspects do. The court agreed to extend Khan’s protection from arrest until Sept. 1.
Hundreds of Khan’s supporters gathered outside the court building, chanting slogans against Sharif’s government. Demonstrators said Khan is being politically victimized by Sharif’s government. Later, Khan left the court for his home on the outskirts of Islamabad.
Sharif replaced Khan in April when he was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament. Legal experts say Khan could face from several months to 14 years in prison, the equivalent of a life sentence if he is found guilty by the court during the trial which has not started yet against him on the terrorism charges.
Thursday’s appearance of Khan before an anti-terrorism tribunal amid tight security was the latest development in the saga between Pakistan’s government and Khan, who has been holding mass rallies, seeking to return to power.
Khan is also to appear before the Islamabad High Court on Aug. 31 to face contempt proceedings on charges of threatening a judge. His conviction, in this case, will mean his disqualification from politics for life under Pakistani law. No convicted person can run for office.
It is the second time that Khan — a former cricket star turned Islamist politician — faces contempt charges. After elections in 1993, he was summoned but pardoned by the Supreme Court after describing the conduct of the judiciary as “shameful” and saying it did not ensure free and fair elections.
Legal experts say Khan has limited options and could avoid a conviction if he apologizes for his remarks against Judge Zeba Chaudhry, when he told her to “get ready for it, we will also take action against you.”
Since his ouster, Khan has alleged — without providing evidence — that Pakistan’s powerful military took part in a U.S. plot to oust him. Washington, the Pakistani military and the government of Khan’s successor, Shahbaz Sharif, have all denied the allegation.
Khan came to power promising to break the pattern of family rule in Pakistan. His opponents contend he was elected with help from the powerful military, which has ruled the country for half of its 75-year history. Since his ouster, Khan has also demanded early elections and vowed to oust Sharif’s government through “pressure from the people.”