Pakistan police on Tuesday arrested a close associate of former Prime Minister Imran Khan for allegedly inciting army officers to mutiny.
Shahbaz Gill was “dragged” out of his vehicle and tortured before being taken into custody just outside Islamabad, the national capital, Khan’s opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party alleged.
Footage aired by local television channels showed broken windowpanes of Gill’s car.
“This is an abduction not an arrest,” Khan tweeted. “Can such shameful acts take place in any democracy? Political workers treated as enemies. And all to make us accept a foreign-backed government of crooks.”
Federal Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah hours later revealed at a news conference that police personnel arrested and subsequently registered a sedition case against the opposition figure “on behalf the state.”
Gill, an American national, was charged with “abetting mutiny or attempting to seduce a soldier, sailor or airman from his duty,” the minister said. “The accused will be presented in the court tomorrow morning and the court will decide.”
The allegations against Gill stemmed from his comments in a live show on Monday aired by ARY News, one of the most popular Pakistani channels. He spoke about alleged rifts in the military over Khan’s ouster from power in a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April.
The then-opposition leader, Shehbaz Sharif, subsequently became the new prime minister of a multiparty coalition government.
PTI leader and Supreme Court attorney Faisal Hussain, along with independent legal experts, dismissed the charges against Gill, saying the country’s constitution gives its citizens right to freedom of expression.
Media outlet suspended
Shortly after ARY News aired the comments in question, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, or PEMRA, ordered cable operators across the country to immediately block the transmission of the channel until “further notice.”
The state regulator later sent a formal “show cause notice” to the broadcaster, accusing it of airing “false, hateful and seditious content.” It went on to argue that Gill’s comments aired by ARY News were “tantamount to inciting [the rank and file] of armed forces toward revolt.”
The TV channel rejected PEMRA’s charges as unlawful. PTI leaders and rights defenders also criticized the move as an attempt to stifle media freedom in Pakistan.
“HRCP strongly opposes the disruptions to @ARYNEWSOFFICIAL. PEMRA must refrain from arbitrarily taking channels off the air and protect all media houses’ right to freedom of expression, responsibly exercised,” tweeted independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Critics say sedition allegations are often used to intimidate and harass media outlets and journalists critical of the powerful military institution.
Khan alleges the United States colluded with Sharif and other opposition parties to topple his nearly four-year-old government, charges that Washington rejects vehemently. He dismissed Sharif’s administration as an “imported government.”
The deposed prime minister has also indirectly accused Pakistan’s military leadership of backing what he claims was a U.S.-sponsored “regime change” plot allegedly provoked by his efforts to conduct Pakistan’s foreign policy independent of U.S. influence.
Tuesday’s arrest of Gill comes as Khan, the 70-year-old cricketer-turned politician, plans to address a large rally on August 13 in Lahore, capital of central Punjab province, the country’s most populous, which is ruled by PTI and its political allies.
The rally comes a day before Pakistan celebrates its day of independence from the British colonial rule in 1947.