ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran appeared in court on Thursday and refused to formally apologize in a case in which he faces contempt charges over his verbal threat to a female judge during a political rally last month.
Under Pakistani law, Khan's appearance was a chance offered by the Islamabad High Court for the ousted prime minister to avoid going to trial — which an apology would have averted. But Khan declined, insisting he had made no threats, in turn prompting the court to schedule the first hearing for Sept. 22.
The charges relate to an emotional speech last month at a rally in the capital, Islamabad, in which Khan threatened Judge Zeba Chaudhry for allowing police to interrogate Shahbaz Gill, chief of staff at Khan’s party, Tehreek-e-Insaf.
Gill was arrested in August and charged with treason over making anti-military remarks during a show on private ARY TV in which he urged soldiers and officers to disobey “illegal” orders from their leaders. The charge carries the death penalty under a sedition act that stems from a British colonial-era law.
During the Islamabad rally, Khan directed his comments against the judge. “You also get ready for it, we will also take action against you," Khan said at the time.
Since his ouster by parliament in a no-confidence vote five months ago, Khan has battled to stay politically relevant and has demonstrated his continued popularity with mass rallies across Pakistan.
He has threatened a mass march to Islamabad, in an effort to force the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to hold early elections.
Some predict Khan would win the vote at this time, due to a groundswell of support. Sharif has rejected the demand for early elections, saying the vote should take place as scheduled in 2023.
Khan, who served as prime minister for over three-and-a-half years, has also claimed that the current government came into power under a plot by the United States, which allegedly disagreed with his more independent foreign policy. Washington has denied such a claim.
Khan also faces “terrorism charges” over allegedly threatening both police and Judge Chaudhry in a separate case, and yet another case launched by Pakistani police for defying a ban on rallies. It remains unclear when these cases will go to trial.
But Khan and his team appear at this point determined to take their campaign into the courts.
“We will exercise our right of the legal fight," said Fawad Chaudhry, a leader in Khan's party.
If he is convicted for contempt over his remarks directed at Chaudhry, Khan would be automatically disqualified from politics for life since under Pakistani law, no convicted person can run for office.
“We were expecting that the court will accept Imran Khan's explanation, as he had clarified that he never meant to issue any threat" against the judge, Khan's political adviser Iftikhar Durrani said.
This is the second time that Khan — a former cricket star turned Islamist politician — faces contempt charges. After the 2013 elections, which he lost, Khan described the conduct of the judiciary as “shameful” and claimed it did not ensure free and fair elections. At the time he was summoned but ultimately pardoned by the Supreme Court.
Munir Ahmed, The Associated Press