Pakistani authorities are investigating whether former prime minister Imran Khan violated anti-terror laws and have banned him from speaking live on television, in moves likely to inflame tensions between Khan, who maintains mass popular support, and the coalition government.
According to police documents seen by CNN, police opened an investigation after Khan vowed to “take action” against the head of police and a female magistrate during a speech in Islamabad on Saturday.
“Listen Director Inspector General (of police), we’re not going to let you go, we’re going to file a case against you. And madam magistrate you should also get ready, we will take action against you,” Khan told hundreds of his supporters during a rally held in support of his former chief of staff, Shahbaz Gill, who was arrested earlier this month on sedition charges after he urged soldiers to disobey orders from military leaders.
Khan has alleged police have tortured Gill while in custody, claims that have gained widespread traction among the former prime minister’s supporters. Islamabad police have denied Khan’s allegations, telling CNN on Saturday that Gill has not been tortured.
On Sunday, Islamabad police tweeted a video of Khan’s speech, saying: “Anyone making threats or accusations will be dealt with according to the law.”
Khan has not been arrested and has not commented publicly on the investigation. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party said the probe was based on “frivolous allegations with no legal grounds.”
Khan’s team on Monday filed a pre-arrest bail application in Islamabad’s High Court, the PTI’s media coordinator, Raoof Hassan, told CNN.
“Now if they have to arrest him they will have to have the pre-arrest bail dismissed. This will now become a legal battle,” Hassan said.
Hundreds of Khan’s supporters gathered outside his home on Saturday night following reports of the police investigation, vowing to “take over” the capital if he was detained.
“Imran Khan is our red line,” said senior PTI politician and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Saturday. “Every child and adult of Pakistan will respond to Khan’s call and (Prime Minister) Shahbaz Sharif will be responsible for the consequences that follow.”
Live broadcast ban
As tensions grow, Pakistan’s Electronic Regulatory Authority (PERA) issued an order late Saturday banning Khan’s speeches from being broadcast live on television, citing “hate speech.”
Khan was “leveling baseless allegations and spreading hate speech through his provocative statements against state institutions,” a statement from PERA said, adding the comments were “likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.”
Channels can air his recorded speeches, according to the order.
In a Twitter post Monday, Khan accused the government of temporarily blocking YouTube during his speech on Saturday. “This is not only a gross violation of freedom of speech but also negatively affects the digital media industry and the livelihoods of many,” he said.
CNN has reached out to YouTube and the Pakistani government for comment.
Tensions between Khan and Sharif’s government have simmered since the cricketer-turned-populist leader was dramatically ousted in an April 10 parliamentary no-confidence vote.
Khan has claimed there is a US-led conspiracy against him, accusing Sharif and the Pakistani military of working with Washington to topple his government. The US, Sharif and the Pakistani military have all denied the allegations.
But Khan’s claims have struck a chord with a young population in a country where anti-American sentiment is common and anger at the establishment is being fueled by a rising cost of living crisis. Khan’s enduring popularity has translated to recent provincial election victories for his party and he has repeatedly called for a new parliamentary vote at mass rallies held since his ouster.