Imran Khan, the former prime minister of Pakistan and leader of the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) party, was arrested once again on August 5, 2023, after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) found him guilty of corrupt practices in the Toshakhana case. The court imposed a fine of Rs 100,000 (US $343.30) and sentenced him to three years in prison. As Khan was absent from the court, he was arrested by Punjab Police in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, and subsequently transferred to Islamabad.
The arrest comes after an announcement by the current Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif on August 4, stating that the National Assembly would be dissolved on August 9, and elections would take place within the next 90 days in accordance with the country's Constitution. However, there are concerns that the elections might be delayed as Digital Census results were endorsed only on Saturday August 5, 2023, leaving limited time for the delimitation of electoral constituencies.
Khan was arrested on May 9 for the first time this year by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on corruption charges related to the Al-Qadir University Trust case. This event triggered widespread protests across the country, leading to incidents of vandalism and violence.
Khan had served as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan from August 18, 2018, to April 10, 2022, until he was removed from office through a no-confidence motion in the parliament.
On 3 November 2022, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt during a rally in Punjab and sustained injuries to the leg. According to a Gallup survey conducted in March 2023, his popularity has soared, as many Pakistanis blamed the current coalition government for the country's high inflation rates. On social media, some Pakistanis speculated that Khan might be deliberately targeted to prevent him from contesting the upcoming elections.
Research analyst Aisha Saeed said:
Putting the entire state machinery to get one man out of the political race is desperation, fear and immaturity. Holding elections was better. This isn't even fascism anymore. Don't even know what it is.
— Aisha Saeed (@MsAishaK) August 5, 2023
Jounalist Khawaja Burhan Uddin posed the question:
How does disqualifying #ImranKhan lead to a level playing field?
— Khawaja Burhan Uddin (@Khawajaburhan6) August 5, 2023
The Toshakhana case
The Toshakhana case is just one of several cases filed against Imran Khan, and which are widely seen as attempts to hinder his participation in elections, following his removal from office last year.
The Toshakhana is a repository used by Pakistan's government to store gifts received by heads of state, lawmakers, bureaucrats, military personnel, and other officials of the country from other governments and international dignitaries. In accordance with the Toshakhana (Management Regulation) Act 2022, gifts received from friendly states must be disclosed to the Cabinet Division, and the gifts are then deposited into the Toshakhana.
In October 2022, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) disqualified Khan from being a member of parliament due to allegations of “corrupt practices.” Subsequently, in November 2022, the ECP filed a complaint with the Islamabad High Court, accusing him of utilizing his 2018-2022 tenure to buy and sell gifts in state possession and received during foreign visits totaling a value exceeding Pakistani Rs 140 million ($490,000). On July 27, 2023, the Senate amended the Toshakhana Act, introducing stricter penalties for the violations of which Khan was accused.
Last month, the PTI's legal team submitted eight petitions to the Islamabad High Court (IHC) contesting Judge Dilawar's ruling regarding the admissibility of the case. They also requested the transfer of the case to a different court, citing concerns about the judge's haste and perceived bias. The council is optimistic that the Supreme Court will overturn the order.
Shortly after Khan's arrest, a video surfaced on his Twitter account stating that he was anticipating such developments and urging his followers to protest peacefully and take action.
Chairman Imran Khan’s message:
My arrest was expected & I recorded this message before my arrest.
It is one more step in fulfilling London Plan but I want my party workers to remain peaceful, steadfast and strong.
We bow before no one but Allah who is Al Haq. We believe in… pic.twitter.com/1kqg6HQVac
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) August 5, 2023
The PTI's legal team of PTI has since taken the matter to the Supreme Court (SC) in response to the order issued by the IHC.
History repeating itself
Several expressed the view in online posts that Khan's arrest is an instance of the political dysfunction that has recurred for years in Pakistan. Journalist Ahmad Noorani has criticized the arrest:
The verdict by an Islamabad court sentencing Imran Khan three years imprisonment in a political case (Toshakhana Case) is highly condemnable. There is no evidence. Extremely biased judgement. The courts in Pakistan are functioning under extreme pressure of powerful military.
— Ahmad Noorani (@Ahmad_Noorani) August 5, 2023
Lawyer and human rights activist Imaan Zainab Mazari tweeted:
Within minutes of verdict being announced in Islamabad, a former PM is arrested from Lahore. You dont have to agree w/ anything PTI says or does to be able to say that Judge Dilawar delivered on his end of the deal with the boys. Nawaz yesterday, Imran today… we never learn. https://t.co/7Yju6m2COs
— Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir (@ImaanZHazir) August 5, 2023
Hussain Haqqani, the former ambassador of Pakistan to the US, stated that:
Another former prime minister convicted and disqualified from running for office in Pakistan. A sad reflection of lack of full democracy. One can disagree with him, his actions, & his ever-changing views but still recognize that this is just a rerun of Pakistan’s sorry past.
— Husain Haqqani (@husainhaqqani) August 5, 2023
PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi criticized the court's verdict, labeling it politically motivated, premeditated and widely anticipated. He raised concerns about the presence of police outside Khan's house at the time the verdict was announced, suggesting that it indicated prior knowledge of the decision. Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Marriyum Aurangzeb, quashed speculations of political victimization, asserting that Khan's arrest was not prompted by such motives.
Khan's latest arrest prompted sporadic protests by PTI supporters, but the police acted swiftly in making arrests:
— Times of Karachi (@TOKCityOfLights) August 5, 2023
Many activists are already behind bars for protesting Khan's previous arrest, and most of them are being tried under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952.
Filmmaker, writer and Activist Ali Raza opined that this crackdown have deterred people from taking to the streets th protest Khan's latest arrest:
The saddest part I believe is that PTI supporters in Pakistan who are protesting on streets or those who are at home, cannot use Social Media to raise their voices against the state. They will be detained or their houses raided.
You are living in a dictatorship rule since 1950’s…
— Ali Raza (@shezanmango) August 5, 2023