A Pakistani official has accused former Prime Minister Imran Khan of sheltering aides and supporters wanted over attacks on the army following his arrest last week, and warned he had 24 hours to hand them over.
“We have intelligence that some 30 to 40 terrorists who were involved in attacking our army’s buildings and installations are hiding at Zaman Park,” Punjab province’s information minister Amir Mir told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the upmarket Lahore neighbourhood where Khan lives.
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“We are giving an ultimatum that these terrorists should be turned over to the police, or else there will be action,” he told a news conference in the city.
Mir said Khan had 24 hours to surrender the suspects, and that a police operation would be launched if he did not comply.
In response, Taimur Khan Jhagra, a politician belonging to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, told Al Jazeera the allegation that Khan is hiding riot suspects is “only going to increase the political temperature and it is very dangerous”.
“It is very rich of this caretaker government, which is in power only to hold elections, not even do their constitutional duty. They are leading a crackdown of a sort that has never before been seen in the country,” he said.
Khan’s protective bail extended
Meanwhile, Khan on Wednesday secured an extension to his protective bail until May 31, his lawyer said.
Khan was bailed by the Islamabad High Court last Friday following his May 9 arrest, which sparked violent protests across the country that killed at least 10 people and led to nearly 5,000 arrests, including some top PTI leaders.
The court extended Khan’s bail, which had been due to expire on Wednesday, because the prosecutor requested more time to produce details of the case against him, Khan’s lawyer Faisal Chaudhry told Reuters news agency.
The dramatic arrest of the former prime minister over corruption allegations from a courtroom in Islamabad on Tuesday last week has deepened political instability in the South Asian nation of 220 million.
Khan, who denies the allegations, was removed from power through a parliamentary confidence vote in April last year.
A wave of violence engulfed Pakistan’s capital and other cities following Khan’s arrest, with thousands of angry supporters storming government buildings and vehicles, and attacking police and military personnel and facilities.
Authorities arrested nearly 5,000 PTI workers and supporters over the deadly protests.
On Wednesday, Mir, the information minister for Punjab province, said those accused of attacking army installations and buildings would be tried by the military courts.
The military said the May 9 attacks against the army were “preplanned” and ordered by Khan’s party leaders. Khan has denied the allegation and demanded an investigation.
Khan has disowned those involved in arson, demanding an impartial inquiry.
Concerns over military trials
Rights groups have previously voiced concerns that military courts often conduct summary trials hearing only abridged evidence.
The trials are usually held behind closed doors, depriving civilians of some of their basic rights, including contracting a lawyer of their choice.
A leading international rights group and a local watchdog on Tuesday called on Pakistan not to try civilians before the military courts.
Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued separate statements, saying they were alarmed by the government’s plan to bring Khan’s supporters to trial under military rules.
Amnesty said it was “alarming to note” that the authorities have stated their “intention to try civilians under military laws, possibly in military courts”.
Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for South Asia, said trying civilians in military courts is contrary to international law.
The Human Rights Commission said civilians arrested should be tried in civil courts and not military ones – reserved for troops suspected of working against the country’s national interests and violating military rules.
Dissanayake accused the Pakistani government of using military law as “an intimidation tactic, designed to crack down on dissent by exercising fear of an institution that has never been held to account for its overreach”.