ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani police Tuesday arrested a prominent politician from the party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan for allegedly attempting to incite soldiers to revolt against the top military leadership.
The arrest of Shahbaz Gill, chief of staff at Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf opposition party, was quickly condemned by party officials, including Khan, who took to Twitter to denounce Gill's arrest.
“This is an abduction, not an arrest. Can such shameful acts take place in any democracy? Political workers (are) treated as enemies. And all to make us accept (a) foreign-backed government of crooks," he tweeted..
The charges against Gill carry up to a death sentence if he is found guilty.
Gill’s arrest came a day after he appeared on the country’s ARY news channel and spoke at length about the current political situation. In it he urged troops up to the brigadier level not to accept any illegal order from the top military leadership.
It was unclear what prompted him to make such a comment, which stunned the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who replaced Khan in April. Khan’s government was ousted through a no-confidence vote.
Gill in his remarks Monday implied that soldiers up to brigadier-level officers are Khan supporters and only some generals oppose Khan and his party. Pakistan's media regulator suspended ARY TV operations for broadcasting Gill's remarks. Pakistan's media regulatory authority in a notice to ARY sought an explanation from it for broadcasting “hateful, seditious and malicious content." ARY TV is widely known to be a supporter of Khan and a critic of the country's powerful military as well as Prime Minister Sharif's government since Khan's government was ousted.
On Tuesday, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said Gill was arrested on treason charges because he attempted to incite people and troops against state institutions, a reference to the country's armed forces.
Sanaullah accused Khan of trying to create a division within the military since his ouster as premier.
Khan in recent speeches at rallies has repeatedly blamed the country’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa for allegedly taking part in an alleged U.S. plot aimed at ousting him. Washington and the army have denied the charge.
Gill was to appear before a judge Wednesday and his lawyers are likely to seek his bail.