Pakistan Bans Visits to Jailed Ex-PM Khan Over Disputed Terror Threat

Islamabad — Prison authorities in Pakistan on Tuesday abruptly banned all meetings and visits to incarcerated former prime minister Imran Khan for two weeks over a “security alert,” drawing a sharp rebuke from his political party and legal counsels.

The 71-year-old former Pakistani leader is serving long prison terms in Rawalpindi, a garrison city adjacent to the capital, Islamabad. Khan was convicted of graft, leaking state secrets while in office, and a fraudulent marriage just days before national elections last month, charges he rejected as political victimization.

His opposition, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), condemned Tuesday’s abrupt “blanket ban” on access to Khan as unlawful and unconstitutional, demanding it be removed immediately.

“When we reached the jail this morning for a routine meeting with Mr. Khan in line with a high court directive, all of a sudden, we were stopped from seeing him and were told that blanket restriction was in place for two weeks on such meetings,” Gohar Ali, the acting PTI chairman, told a news conference in Islamabad.

“The excuse was made that there was a threat of terrorism,” he added, claiming the ban was solely aimed at “isolating their popular” leader from media and supporters, and it would be challenged in a court of law.

An official written directive from the inspector general of prisons in Punjab province, where Rawalpindi is situated, confirmed Tuesday the two-week ban on public visits, meetings, and media interviews within the prison complex.

The directive stated, without elaborating, that “there exist different types of threats to security” of the prison complex and “anti-state terrorist groups…have planned to conduct targeted attacks thereof.” 

The prison facility also houses other senior PTI leaders, including Pakistan’s former foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Khan, a cricket hero-turned-prime minister, was ousted from office in 2022 through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence and has since faced scores of legal challenges. He denies wrongdoing and accuses Pakistan’s powerful military of being behind his prosecution and other civil and criminal charges. The military rejects allegations it meddles in the country’s political affairs.

The February 8 elections in Pakistan delivered a split mandate. PTI-backed candidates won the most seats in the 336-seat National Assembly or the lower house of parliament but not enough to form a government on their own.

That encouraged the two family-controlled traditional ruling parties, former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PML-N, and the Pakistan Peoples Party, or PPP, to cobble together a coalition government, enabling Sharif to return to power for a second time.

The elections were marred by widespread rigging allegations, and critics at home and in foreign governments, including the United States, called for an independent probe.

The PTI leadership alleges it won a two-thirds majority, but the election commission manipulated the outcome at the behest of the military to “steal” their mandate” and enable their bitter two rivals, PML-N and PPP, to form the government. The commission denies the accusations.

In the lead up to the polls, Khan’s party was subjected to a military-backed government crackdown, detaining hundreds of its members and candidates and barring the party from organization campaign rallies. PTI’s activities were also banned from mainstream media, and so were Khan’s name or images.

The other political parties, including rival PML-N and PPP, freely conducted their campaigns and dominated media coverage in the build-up to the vote.

Sharif’s 19-member cabinet was sworn in Monday. It included several members from Pakistan’s interim government, which was exclusively tasked under the constitution with holding the elections and remaining neutral.

Pakistani authorities shut down mobile phone and internet services on election day, giving credence to allegations of voter fraud.   

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