Pakistan's interior minister accuses Imran Khan of trying to incite rebellion

The former prime minister has held frequent rallies across the country since being expelled from government in April

Remarks by Pakistan's Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah (C) have led to mounting speculation that ex-prime minister Imran Khan could soon be arrested. EPA
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Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan was facing fresh legal challenges on Saturday evening when Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah accused him of challenging “the writ of the state by inciting rebellion”.

Mr Khan was removed from government in April after a no-confidence vote in Parliament and has since blamed a foreign conspiracy backed by the US for his removal.

He has held regular rallies across the country, calling for new elections but his continuing campaign against Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has bought him and his followers increasingly into conflict with the police. After Mr Sanaullah’s remarks, speculation that Mr Khan could soon be arrested is mounting.

A close aide of Mr Khan was this year arrested on treason charges after alleged anti-military remarks. He was taken to hospital this week after complaining of breathing difficulties, officials said on Friday. Shahbaz Gill, who is also chief of staff of Mr Khan’s opposition Tehreek-e-Insaf party, was arrested after appearing on private ARY TV in the southern port city of Karachi, when he allegedly incited troops and officers to mutiny.

During the broadcast, Mr Gill, a known critic of the military, said soldiers and officers should refuse to obey “illegal orders" from the military leadership. He implied that the rank and file of the armed forces overwhelmingly supports Mr Khan.

After the TV interview, Mr Gill was arrested and charged with treason, which under Pakistani law carries the death penalty. ARY TV was taken off air and its broadcasting licence was revoked. The station's new director Ammad Yousaf was arrested but released soon after.

Security officials — speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity — said Mr Gill was taken from his jail cell to hospital on Wednesday after telling the guards that he was having difficulty breathing.

Mr Khan had accused the police of “torture and abuse" but they deny mistreating Mr Gill, insisting that the former prime minister's aide was unwell because he suffers from chronic asthma, local media reported.

The police later released a statement on Mr Gill’s medical condition, saying he was medically fit to be questioned.

Mr Khan called his supporters to rally in Islamabad on Saturday to denounce Mr Gill’s arrest.

In Pakistan, police cannot question detained suspects while they are in hospital, even though they remain in custody.

Mr Khan came to power in 2018, promising to break the pattern of family rule in Pakistan, but his opponents said he was elected with help from the powerful military, which has ruled the country for half of its 75-year history.

Updated: August 22, 2022, 5:40 AM