Thursday, June 20, 2024

Pakistan court indicts former PM in state gifts case; violent protests escalating across the country

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, already in custody, has been indicted for allegedly selling state gifts during his four years in power. Dozens of people have been killed or wounded after demonstrations broke out across the country following Khan’s arrest. Hundreds are arrested.

Wednesday’s indictment was issued a day after Khan, 70, was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in another corruption case.

Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha, a lawmaker from Pakistan’s ruling coalition who was a plaintiff in the case against Khan on state gifts, confirmed his indictment and said the former premier had put the “country’s peace at stake”.

The indictment followed a decision by the Election Commission of Pakistan in October that found the former prime minister guilty of “corrupt practices” and disqualified him from being a member of parliament. The commission then sought criminal proceedings against Khan.

The head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is accused of selling gifts given by foreign dignitaries from the state gift depository and not disclosing the assets in declarations submitted to the commission.

Khan has vehemently denied the charges.

Mobile data services were shut for a second day on Wednesday as street demonstrations raged with federal ministers accusing Khan’s supporters of torching several buildings and vehicles.

Access to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook was disrupted and the army was called in to restore order in at least two of Pakistan four provinces – Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – where Khan is most popular.

Police confirmed they arrested more than 1,000 protesters for violence in Khan’s home province of Punjab.

A NAB court in the capital, Islamabad, also ruled Khan should be remanded into police custody for eight days as part of an investigation into the Al-Qadir Trust corruption case, in which he was arrested a day earlier. NAB had sought a 14-day remand.

The action by the anti-corruption body has triggered demonstrations by Khan’s supporters across the country.

The PTI chief has been slapped with dozens of criminal cases since he was removed as prime minister in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April last year. The charges he faces include “terrorism” and corruption. Khan has stated that the military is behind the move to remove him from office.

He has since held dozens of political rallies calling for early national elections and describing the current coalition government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, as “imported”.

Khan’s popularity has gone up since he became opposition leader as the government has failed to address an unprecedented economic crisis.

His supporters have poured out onto the streets across the country, venting their anger against the powerful military, which they blame for Khan’s ouster.

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