Arrest warrant issued for former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan

Since Khan was removed from power in April, Pakistan has been dealing with political and economic chaos following devastating flooding.

 Pakistan's then-prime minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan June 4, 2021. (photo credit: Saiyna Bashir/REUTERS)
Pakistan's then-prime minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan June 4, 2021.
(photo credit: Saiyna Bashir/REUTERS)

ISLAMABAD – A federal judge issued an arrest warrant on Saturday for former Prime Minister Imran Khan, for allegedly threatening a female judge in a public speech.

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Senior Civil Judge Rana Mujahid Rahim issued the warrant after Khan failed to appear for a bail hearing in the case. The former prime minister faces contempt charges for allegedly threatening Judge Zeba Chaudhary during a rally in Islamabad.

On August 20, Khan addressed a massive demonstration in Islamabad’s Fatima Jinnah Park in support of his chief of staff, Dr. Shahbaz Gill, who was arrested by police on August 9 for “inciting the public against state institutions.”

While addressing the rally, Khan warned Judge Chaudhary, saying, “Despite knowing that Shahbaz Gill was tortured, why was he handed over to the police on physical remand? We will not spare you, too.”

Khan's retaliation

Khan had vowed to sue the Islamabad Police’s inspector general and deputy inspector general, and Judge Chaudhary. The Margalla police station in Islamabad had registered a case against the former prime minister on charges of hate speech. Khan had also been booked under terrorism charges, which were later dropped by the Pakistani High Court.

After the court’s decision, the Anti-Terrorism Court directed Khan to appear at the lower court for bail, as the matter did not fall under its jurisdiction. When Khan did not appear at the bail hearing, the lower court issued a warrant for his arrest.

 Ousted Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan gestures as he travels on a vehicle to lead a protest march in Islamabad, Pakistan May 26, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO) Ousted Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan gestures as he travels on a vehicle to lead a protest march in Islamabad, Pakistan May 26, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO)

It is noteworthy that the arrest warrant was issued soon after Maryam Nawaz, a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, held a press conference in Islamabad on Saturday, and angrily called for a raid on Khan’s residence to recover a missing copy of a diplomatic document that reportedly carried details of purported US threats to overthrow Khan’s government.

In an unprecedented move on Friday, Khan came to the court to apologize to Judge Chaudhary, but she was not there. Khan met with her staff and asked them to tell the judge that he had come to apologize to her.

On Saturday, the former prime minister also submitted an affidavit to the High Court in the contempt case for threatening the female judge. In the affidavit, Khan assured the court that he “would never do anything in the future that would hurt the dignity of any court and the judiciary, especially the lower judiciary.”

Since Khan was removed from power in April, Pakistan has been dealing with political and economic chaos following devastating flooding. Since then, the populist Khan has been demonstrating his popularity with the masses by holding dozens of rallies across the country.

The news that a warrant had been issued for Khan spread like wildfire through social media. Many leaders and activists from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party rushed to his residence in Islamabad’s Bani Gala area. Meanwhile, thousands of PTI workers came out on the streets in Peshawar, Lahore, and Karachi and shouted slogans against the federal government.

How are those closest with Khan reacting to his arrest warrant?

Fawad Chaudhary, Khan’s close ally and the former information minister, told The Media Line, “Issuing a warrant in such a feeble case with weak provisions of allegations is extremely futile. An unnecessary media spectacle has been created through bailable provisions and silly trials. The case has already lost its importance after the ruling of the High Court.”

He added, “As Imran Khan has to give a final call for a long march toward Islamabad in the next few days, so the corrupt rulers have come up with cheap tactics. The imposed rulers know that the people are now fully ready for real freedom. The future of Pakistan is an independent and democratic country. A rotten political system, a fascist future without rights, and a corrupt ruling class will no longer be the destiny of Pakistan.”

PAKISTAN’S PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan (right) and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speak during an agreement signing ceremony in Islamabad, in February. (credit: REUTERS)PAKISTAN’S PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan (right) and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speak during an agreement signing ceremony in Islamabad, in February. (credit: REUTERS)

Chaudhary told The Media Line, “The zealous people of Pakistan have now decided that they will never accept this system. This is the reason why the ruling coalition group is trying to avoid a general election. If the people of Pakistan do not respond to Imran Khan’s call this time, the Sharif and Zardari dynasties will rule the country for the next 100 years.”

Michael Kugelman, the director of South Asia affairs at the Wilson Center in Washington, said in a tweet, “Catastrophic floods, economic misery, and resurgent terrorism threats – and Pakistan’s government chose this moment to issue an arrest warrant for Imran Khan, a move that could cause political unrest and distract attention from all those other crises. Retributive politics die hard.”

Yasir Bashir, a senior lawyer at the Lahore High Court Rawalpindi bench, told The Media Line, “The government has created a storm in a teacup and made the people of the whole country uneasy. People are already suffering from floods and rampant inflation.”

Meanwhile, the Islamabad police issued an official statement: “An arrest warrant is a legal process. Imran Khan did not appear in court on his previous appearance. An arrest warrant has been issued to ensure his appearance in court. Imran Khan has not yet obtained his bail from the Sessions Court. In case of non-appearance, he can be arrested.”

Azeem Khalid Qureshi, an Islamabad-based political analyst, told The Media Line, “It is a bitter truth that in the recent few months of the current government, the upsurge in the prices of petroleum products has led to a huge rise in inflation.”

Qureshi added, “Due to such economic difficulties and severe inflation, the common people have become disillusioned with the current rulers, and the ruling class knows very well that if general elections are held now on Khan’s demand, Khan will win with a bigger majority than before. Therefore, the coalition government does not want an early election or dissolution of assemblies.”

“Meanwhile, Khan is holding massive public rallies across the country and he has mentally prepared the people for the general elections ahead of time”, Qureshi noted. “They want to stop Khan and for this purpose, may even escalate to some extent, even if it causes more political polarity in an already highly polarized country.”

“For early general elections and the dissolution of assemblies, Khan has asked his workers from across the country to prepare for a massive sit-in in Islamabad in October, and issuing an arrest warrant is just one tactic," Qureshi added, “The sole purpose is to somehow thwart Imran Khan from staging a sit-in demonstration in Islamabad.”

PAKISTAN’S PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan speaks in Islamabad earlier this year – no ties with Israel seem imminent (credit: REUTERS)PAKISTAN’S PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan speaks in Islamabad earlier this year – no ties with Israel seem imminent (credit: REUTERS)

Abdul Rehman Tiwana, a Lahore-based regional political analyst, told The Media Line, “Despite apologizing to the lady judge, issuing an arrest warrant for a national leader is incomprehensible. The federal government does not want Imran Khan to stage a sit-in for early elections, as Khan has been repeatedly pressurizing federal government and military establishment to announce a date for early general elections.”

Tiwana recalled, “Khan always urges that only a legitimate and popular government would be able to resolve the country’s economic and political problems. At a time when one-third of the country is underwater, incompetent rulers have taken this deplorable action. It can also be called a failed attempt to divert public attention from inflation and other economic problems.”