UN panel calls Imran Khan’s detention arbitrary and demands his release

A UN human rights panel has called for the immediate release of former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, saying he has been detained “arbitrarily in violation of international laws”.

In an opinion published on Monday, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that Mr Khan’s detention had “no legal basis and appears to have been intended to disqualify him from running for office”.

The panel urged Pakistan’s government to allow it to visit the country.

Mr Khan was removed from power in 2022 and has been incarcerated since August 2023, when he was arrested and slapped with some 170 criminal charges.

Mr Khan has claimed that the no confidence vote that led to his ouster and the subsequent criminal cases were orchestrated by the country’s powerful military, acting at the direction of the American government, to keep him away from power. Pakistan’s new government and military as well as Washington have denied the accusations.

Mr Khan has been acquitted or given bail in many of the most serious cases, all of which he maintains are politically motivated.

The former prime minister’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party told The Independent last month that he was still in jail because of a ruling that his 2018 marriage was unIslamic and illegal. It was the weakest of all the cases, the party said.

Mr Khan was banned from seeking political office and his party was barred from contesting the national election.

Though the election held in February was alleged to have been rigged, independent candidates backed by Mr Khan’s party won most seats in parliament.

The Working Group said the legal cases brought against the former prime minister were part of a “much larger campaign of repression” against him and his party.

The panel was “alarmed by the general allegations of widespread arrest, detention and disappearances of individuals, including many Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters” and urged the authorities “to take swift and appropriate action in this regard”.

Zulfi Bukhari, a spokesperson for Mr Khan’s party, said “international silence” on his “illegal incarceration” was finally broken. “We welcome the Working Group’s opinion with hope and optimism as we call on the international community to continue holding the government of Pakistan accountable for the inexcusable miscarriage of justice Mr Khan, his wife and many PTI members have suffered,” he said in a statement on Monday.

“The international condemnation of the manner in which the government of Pakistan illegally stripped Mr Khan of his freedom and rights has echoed from the US to the UN, with the House of Representatives and now the Working Group shining a light on it as a blatant effort to interfere with his intentions to run for political office.”

The Working Group published its opinion in response to a petition by London-based law firm Harbottle & Lewis and Washington-based Perseus Strategies.

Sarah Gogan, partner at Harbottle & Lewis, said they were pleased with the Working Group’s report and called for the international community to pressure Pakistan’s government to release Mr Khan.

She said the opinion reflects “the principles of fundamental human rights under the rule of law”.

“We hope the international community will use this moment as an opportunity to engage further with the Government of Pakistan and work to secure the release of Mr Khan.”