Ally of former Pakistani PM Imran Khan jailed ahead of trial
ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani court on Friday sent to jail for two weeks a senior ally of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, after his arrest over allegations that he threatened the chief of the elections oversight body and other government officials.
Khan was ousted by a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April, but has refused to accept that outcome and has persisted in his calls for early elections, leading to a political standoff with the current government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
Khan’s supporter Fawad Chaudhry was arrested from the eastern city of Lahore on Wednesday following a complaint from the Election Commission of Pakistan, which has accused him of threatening its head, Sikandar Sultan Raja, and other officials.
The government says Chaudhry’s threats were meant to prevent the commission’s officials from performing their duties and inciting people to violence against them, a charge Chaudhry’s lawyer Babar Awan denied.
Chaudhry, who serves as senior vice president in Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, was in handcuffs when police brought him into the court Friday amid tight security.
The court ordered Chaudry to be held in jail for two weeks while investigators formally submit charges against him before his formal trial begins.
Chaudhry’s wife Hiba Fawad after attending the court hearing told reporters that her husband was fighting for the cause of democracy in Pakistan but the government was treating him like a “terrorist.”
Pakistani police have asked Chaudhry be charged with treason, a crime that the country’s legal forces normally use against militants.
Chaudhry could face several years in prison if convicted of treason under Pakistan’s 1997 anti-terrorism law which carries up to the death sentence. Human rights activists for the past several years have asked successive governments not to misuse the law which was passed to give wider powers to police amid a surge in militant and sectarian violence.
Pakistan is currently facing a deepening economic crisis that has seen its currency plunge against the U.S. dollar, amid its political turmoil.
On Friday, Prime Minister Sharif in a televised speech said he hoped Pakistan would be able to relaunch talks with the International Monetary Fund in the coming days for a $6 billion bailout package. The negotiations have been on hold because of Islamabad’s reluctance to accept the package’s tough conditions.