UN group demands release of ex-Pakistan PM Imran Khan; says his detention violates international law

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A United Nations human rights working group on Monday called for the immediate release of Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan, saying he had been detained “arbitrarily in violation of international laws.”

The Geneva-based United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention made this demand after examining Khan’s case in which he was sentenced last year on charges of corruption.

Khan has been facing multiple prison sentences since 2022 when he was ousted through a vote of no-confidence in the parliament. There was no immediate comment from the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who replaced Khan after his ouster.

Khan has been held in prison since August 2023 when a court awarded him a three-year prison sentence after finding him guilty of hiding assets after selling state gifts. It led to a ban on Khan from taking part in politics and contesting the Feb. 8 elections, which his party says were rigged.

The Election Commission of Pakistan, which oversaw the vote, has denied the vote-rigging allegations.

Despite his conviction in multiple cases, Khan remains the leading opposition figure.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, which has a strong presence in the parliament, hailed the demand of the U.N. group, which said Khan’s detention in the graft case “had no legal basis and appears to have been intended to disqualify him from running for office. It said “Khan was detained for exercising his right to freedom of expression or opinion” and that he was also denied a “fair trial and due process rights.”

The U.N. working group demanded Khan’s immediate release, saying it was an “appropriate remedy.”

The group further said Khan’s conviction in the graft case was “part of a much larger campaign of repression targeting the PTI generally and Khan specifically”.

It said, “In the lead up to Pakistan’s February 2024 general elections, PTI candidates were arrested, tortured, and intimidated into leaving the party; PTI rallies were disrupted and blocked; and the party was deprived of its iconic cricket bat symbol, forcing its candidates to run as independents.”

The U.N. group also said Khan himself was facing over 150 politically motivated criminal cases, and just days before the election, he was convicted in three more cases and sentenced to an additional 10 years, 14 years, and seven years in prison, respectively.

“For Khan, who is 71 years old, the combined prison term of 34 years amounts to a life sentence,” the group said. Khan’s spokesman Zulfi Bukhari, welcomed the group’s findings and demands for Khan’s release.

Khan’s party won the most seats in the Feb.8 vote but fell short of a majority to form a government.

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