Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan has missed attending a police hearing into remarks he made about the force and a magistrate, which led to him being investigated under the country’s counter-terrorism laws.
He had appeared before an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad in August, which has twice extended pre-emptive bail for him until September 20, a legal mechanism protecting a person from arrest.
The Islamabad High Court alleges that Mr Khan gave a warning of “taking action” against magistrate Zeba Chaudhry, saying the authorities should be “ashamed of themselves” and telling them to “get ready”. The remarks have been interpreted by the government as incitement to violence, after clashes between Mr Khan's supporters and police.
Mr Khan later said he regretted the comments made in August but also said he stood for “freedom of speech” and that his words were issued in that context.
Could Imran Khan be arrested?
It is not clear whether he will receive another extension to pre-emptive bail on September 20. A separate court is also set to hear contempt of court charges against him on September 22, stemming from the same speech. A criminal conviction could result in a jail sentence and Mr Khan being barred from running for the Pakistani Parliament for five years.
He was ousted from office in April following a no-confidence vote in Parliament, after which he led a number of mass rallies of his supporters across the country, some of which turned violent. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rana Sanaullah, has accused Mr Khan of “inciting rebellion”.
Police said 18 officers were injured in the clashes and casualties among demonstrators were likely as high, after officers fired teargas and charged at the crowds with riot batons.
The former prime minister has repeatedly said his government fell victim of a foreign plot and that Shahbaz Sharif, his replacement, was installed with the help of the US government.
Raising tension, Shahbaz Gill, chief of staff of Mr Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, was arrested in mid-August in Karachi, after he called on soldiers to disobey orders from Mr Sharif’s administration, remarks the government regarded as a call for an armed forces' mutiny.
Mr Gill’s request to be released on bail, citing ill health, was being considered by a court in Islamabad on Monday.
Mr Khan doubled down on anti-government rhetoric, on Monday repeating an assertion that Mr Sharif’s administration is an “imported government” consisting of a “cabal of crooks and their handlers”.
The ousted prime minister still commands a large number of followers and one loyalist, former government minister Ali Amin Gandapur, has threatened on Twitter to “take over Islamabad" in the event of Mr Khan’s arrest.
Judge Jawad Abbas Hassan granted bail, Mr Khan’s lawyer Babar Awan said on Monday.
He said Mr Khan was ready to co-operate with any investigation.
It is feared, however, that Mr Khan’s legal challenges could spark more street protests, with Pakistan grappling with soaring inflation and the aftermath of catastrophic flooding.