Ex-Pakistan PM Imran Khan arbitrarily detained, says UN working group

Geneva-based UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says Khan’s imprisonment violates international law and demands ‘immediate’ release.

Supporters of Pakistan's Former Prime Minister Imran Khan chant slogans during a protest against the Pakistan Election Commission, in Karachi, Pakistan, Saturday, March 2, 2024
Khan's supporters chant slogans during a protest against the Election Commission of Pakistan, in Karachi [File: Fareed Khan/AP]

A United Nations human rights working group says former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been arbitrarily imprisoned in violation of international law.

In an opinion issued on Monday, the Geneva-based UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said the “appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Khan immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law”.

“[The] working group concludes that his detention had no legal basis and appears to have been intended to disqualify him from running for political office. Thus, from the outset, that prosecution was not grounded in law and was reportedly instrumentalised for a political purpose,” the UN working group said in the opinion, which was dated March 25 but only made public on Monday.

The group, made up of five independent experts, whose opinions are not binding but carry reputational weight, said Khan’s legal woes were part of a “much larger campaign of repression” against him and his Pakistan Tehree-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

It said that in the lead up to the 2024 general elections, members of Khan’s party were arrested and tortured and their rallies were disrupted. It also alleged “widespread fraud on election day, stealing dozens of parliamentary seats”.

The Pakistani government has not commented on the opinion yet. The country’s election commission denies the February elections were rigged.

Slew of cases

Since his removal as prime minister in April 2022, Khan, 71, has been entangled in more than 200 legal cases and imprisoned since August last year. He calls the cases politically motivated and orchestrated by his political enemies to keep him from power.

Last week, an Islamabad court rejected a plea to suspend the jail terms of Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi, whose marriage was ruled illegal under Islamic law.

In April this year, a Pakistani high court suspended Khan and his wife’s 14-year prison sentences in a corruption case. Khan also had another 10-year sentence for treason overturned this month.

But he remains in Adiala jail, south of the capital Islamabad, over the illegal marriage conviction.

Rana Sanaullah, an adviser to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, last week said “the government will try to keep him locked up for as long as possible”, according to the AFP news agency.

Analysts say Pakistan’s powerful military, which has ruled directly for decades and wields immense power, is likely behind the slew of cases.

Khan was ousted by a parliamentary no-confidence vote after falling out with the top generals who had once backed him.

He then waged an unprecedented campaign against them and accused top army officers of conspiring in an assassination attempt in which he was shot during a political rally in November 2022. The military rejected the allegation.

Khan’s brief arrest in May 2023 sparked nationwide unrest, which in turn prompted a sweeping crackdown against his PTI party and its senior leaders.

PTI candidates were forced to stand as independents in the February general elections, although candidates loyal to PTI still secured more seats than any other party.

However, they were kept from power by a broad coalition of parties considered loyal to the military.

On Friday, Pakistan’s lower house of parliament denounced a United States’ congressional resolution that called for an independent investigation into allegations that Pakistan’s elections this year were rigged.

Though Pakistan’s government expressed anger over the US resolution, Khan’s party hailed it, saying its victory in the election was converted into a defeat by the country’s election commission.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies