UN group demands immediate release of jailed ex-PM Imran Khan; Pak govt says ‘internal issue’

Imran Khan
Imran Khan

Islamabad | A UN group has demanded the immediate release of Pakistan's jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, saying at least two cases slapped on him were "politically motivated" and aimed to exclude him from the country's political scene.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted its opinion on the 71-year-old Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party founder’s detention in its 99th session from March 18-27 in Geneva.

The UN body said that Khan’s detention and prosecution in the first Toshakhana corruption case and cipher cases were "politically motivated" to exclude him from competing in the political arena. The UN group also said that it was “without legal basis”.

Reacting to the development, the Pakistan government on Tuesday dismissed the plea, saying the jailed former prime minister’s arrest and the pending cases against him were “internal matters.”

Khan getting relief in many cases is “a manifestation of a transparent and fair trial and judicial system. Any demand beyond the constitution, law and international norms will be called discriminatory, biased and against justice,” Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar said in a statement reacting to the UN agency’s report.

He also said that Pakistan as an independent state enforces the constitution and prevailing laws through the courts. “Imran Khan has all the rights according to the country's constitution and law and international norms, he is in jail as a convicted prisoner,” Tarar said.

His remarks came after the embarrassing indictment of the Pakistan government as the UN group termed Khan’s detention in at least two cases as void of any legal basis.

PTI leader Zulfi Bukhari, in his reaction to the Law Minister's remarks, said that the issue of Khan's arrest is no longer an 'internal matter' of Pakistan.

“The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, based in Geneva, after months of work, has given their official opinion. This is huge and reveals that Imran Khan’s detention is illegal and should be released immediately,” Bukhari said in a statement on X.

“The Working Group concludes that his detention had no legal basis and appears to have been intended to disqualify him from running a political office. I thank everyone who has worked tirelessly on this case in the UN. This is no longer an ‘internal matter’,” he added.

The Dawn newspaper reported that the UN body based its opinion on its source’s detailed and unrebutted submissions regarding the ultra vires nature of the prosecution in the first Toshakhana case, as well as the context of the political repression of Khan and his party in which that prosecution occurred.

“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,” it said.

It further added that how Khan was convicted in the first Toshakhana case (namely, a summary judgment delivered in absentia) and his subsequent arrest by law enforcement personnel who broke into his residence and assaulted him and his staff were concerning and compounded the illegality.

The working group further said that Khan's prosecution in the cipher case “lacks a grounding in law, as his actions do not appear to have violated the Official Secrets Act, as was apparently corroborated by the intelligence services, according to the source’s unrebutted submissions.”

The 17-page UN agency report details the various cases in which Khan was arrested and how he was treated while undergoing the judicial processes. The main cases were the two Toshakhana cases and the cipher case.

The first Tohakhana case alleges that Khan had “deliberately concealed” details of the gifts he retained from the Toshaskhana — a repository where presents handed to government officials from foreign officials are kept — during his time as the prime minister and proceeds from their reported sales.

It is separate from the second Toshakhana corruption case against Khan and his spouse Bibi which alleged that they retained a jewellery set received from the Saudi crown prince against an undervalued assessment.

The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that the Federal Investigation Agency’s charge sheet alleges was never returned by then-PM Khan, who long held that the document contained a threat from the US to topple his government.

Regarding his sentences in the second Toshakhana case and the Iddat case, the UN group noted: “The working group cannot but observe the coincidence in the timing of the four prosecutions, which effectively prevented Mr Khan from contesting the general election originally scheduled for November 2023.”

The elections were ultimately held on February 8, 2024 as Khan continued to be in jail.

The working group noted that in the absence of any rebuttal from the government, “it would appear that the prosecutions brought against Mr Khan are related to his leadership of the PTI and indicate a determination to silence him and his supporters and exclude their political participation.”

The group added that it was “evident” that the basis of his subsequent arrest and detention was his exercise of freedom of assembly.

“The working group considers that taking into account all the circumstances of the case, 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 urges the government to ensure a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Mr Khan and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of his rights,” the opinion said.

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