Experts weigh in on court proceedings against Pakistan’s ex-PM 

Experts weigh in on court proceedings against Pakistan’s ex-PM 
Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan (C) arrives to appear before the anti-terrorism court in Islamabad on August 25, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 30 August 2022

Experts weigh in on court proceedings against Pakistan’s ex-PM 

Experts weigh in on court proceedings against Pakistan’s ex-PM 
  • Guilty verdict for ‘insulting’ judge could see ban from politics
  • Additional terror charge carries penalty up to 14 years in jail

ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan braces this week to face contempt of court charges and the end of interim bail in a terrorism case, several political analysts, journalists and lawyers have expressed mixed views — denouncing the “victimization" of political leaders in the country, and urging the ousted premier not to consider his popularity a “license” to break the law.

Islamabad police registered a terrorism case against Khan on Aug. 21 after he allegedly made threatening remarks at a public rally against top police officials and a judge who had his chief of staff, Dr. Shahbaz Gill, arrested and charged with sedition. Khan is on bail in the terror case until Sept. 1.

The Islamabad High Court has also initiated contempt proceedings against the former premier for his remarks against the judge in the same speech, with hearings poised to begin on Wednesday.

Another case has been filed by the coalition government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in the election commission over Khan’s alleged failure to declare in his assets amounts he earned from the sale of state gifts. The electronic media regulator also slapped a ban on the live telecast of Khan’s speeches earlier this month, though the restriction was lifted on Monday.

The ex-PM, who came to power in 2018 and was ousted in April in a no-confidence vote in parliament, could be disqualified for life from politics if convicted of insulting the judge. The terrorism charge against him could carry a penalty ranging from several months to 14 years in prison, the equivalent of a life sentence.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has repeatedly called all the cases politically motivated. The Sharif government denies it is targeting Khan.

Arab News spoke to several journalists, political analysts, and lawyers about Khan’s legal challenges and what they meant for freedom of speech and the future of politics in Pakistan.

“Every time this happens, it indicates a certain fragility within the Pakistani state,” Mosharraf Zaidi, CEO of the thinktank Tabadlab, told Arab News, referring to the court cases against Khan. “Fundamentally, it should be within the domain of the Pakistani state to be able to accept dissenting speech, including speech that some might find offensive.”

Zaidi called it a “shameful decision” to charge Khan under the anti-terrorism act: “This has sadly become our political culture … Every major politician in this country has corruption charges ... foreign funding charges ... treason charges. This is ridiculous.”

“Absolutely, the PTI is being victimized for standing up to the powers that be,” he added, using a euphemism for the military, which vehemently denies it interferes in civilian politics.

Journalist and primetime talk show host Meher Bokhari lamented that political parties across the board had a record for being “champions of the freedom of speech” while in opposition but gagging the media and targeting political opponents once in power.

“It’s very tragic what is going on in Pakistan right now,” she said. “The sad part is that, you know, all these politicians … who have suffered in the past, you know, they say once bitten, twice shy. Nobody is shy around here.”

Most importantly, Bokhari argued that there was little difference now in terms of how politicians, journalists and freedom of expression advocates were being treated under military and civilian governments.

“We have seen the same kind of oppression, the same kind of, you know, violence against journalists,” she said. “You’ve seen ridiculous cases of mutiny, sedition, terrorism, the worst kind of application of the penal code right now against Imran Khan.”

Talk show host and political commentator Asma Shirazi said she did not support attempts to gag or politically victimize Khan but argued that he needed to follow the law.

Despite his “irresponsible” speeches against the country’s top officials and institutions, it was unnecessary to “book him under this anti-terrorism law,” Sherazi told Arab News, arguing that the contempt charges were fair.

She added: “I support freedom of speech, but I can’t support abuse of freedom of speech.”

“He is a popular leader, but his statements could be dangerous,” she said. “Popularity is not a license to violate rule of law.”

“Even then,” Sherazi added, “it’s I think unnecessary to book him under this anti-terrorism law.”

“None of this is very constitutional because every politician has a right to disseminate his views to his supporters and to the public at large,” Barrister Usama Malik said.

The legal expert said while the anti-terror act carried a clause prohibiting the intimidation of public officials and Khan’s remarks against the judge and police officials were “uncalled for,” the case did not qualify under terrorism rules.

“Terrorism charges do not carry any great weight and I am glad that he has been granted bail in this matter,” Malik said.

However, the contempt case had serious implications, the lawyer said.

“There is a possibility that if his apology (for remarks against the judge) is not accepted,” Malik said, “then he could very well be disqualified (from politics).”

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MOGADISHU: A suicide attack claimed by the Somali extremist militant group Al-Shabab killed at least seven people and injured nine others in Mogadishu on Sunday, the army and eyewitnesses told AFP.
A “desperate terrorist” blew himself up on Sunday morning near a line of new recruits who were enrolling at the Nacnac military base in the south of the Somali capital, local military commander Abdullahi Adan told AFP.
“Seven people were killed and nine others injured,” he said.
“I was close to the site of the explosion, it was huge and I could see dead and injured people,” eyewitness Ahme Gobe told AFP.
Another eyewitness, Asha Omar, spoke of seeing at least 10 people taken away by ambulance.
Al-Shabab, an extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has been waging an insurgency against the Somali state for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Its fighters killed at least 19 civilians in central Somalia earlier this month.
The group carried out a major attack on a Mogadishu hotel in August, leaving 21 people dead and 117 injured following a 30-hour siege.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has faced a resurgent Al-Shabab since his election in May and vowed to wage an “all-out war” against the insurgents.
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Al-Shabab has been driven out of Somalia’s urban centers, including Mogadishu in 2011, but remains entrenched in vast swathes of the countryside.
The US army on Wednesday said it had killed 27 Al-Shabab militiamen in an air strike in central Somalia in support of the country’s regular forces.
President Joe Biden decided to restore a US military presence in Somalia in May to fight the militants, approving a request from the Pentagon, which deemed his predecessor Donald Trump’s rotation system too risky and ineffective.


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Updated 25 September 2022

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KYIV: Ukraine said Sunday that the southern port city of Odessa was attacked by Iranian-made drones overnight, two days after a Russian attack with such a weapon killed two civilians.
“Odessa was attacked again by enemy kamikaze drones,” said the Ukrainian army’s Operational Command South.
“The enemy hit the administrative building in the city center three times,” it said in a Facebook message.
“One drone was shot down by (Ukrainian) air defense forces. No casualties (were) recorded,” it said.
“These were Iranian drones,” a Ukrainian South Command spokeswoman, Natalya Gumenyuk, later told AFP.
The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa Friday in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone.
Four Iranian-made drones were shot down in the south of the country Friday, according to Ukraine’s armed forces.
Kyiv said later it decided to reduce Iran’s diplomatic presence in Ukraine over its supply of drones to Russia.
“In response to such an unfriendly act, the Ukrainian side decided to deprive the ambassador of Iran in Ukraine of accreditation, as well as to significantly reduce the number of diplomatic personnel of the Iranian embassy in Kyiv,” said Ukraine’s foreign ministry.
A foreign ministry official told AFP that the move amounted to expulsion as the ambassador was not in Ukraine and therefore could not be expelled.
“The use of Iranian-made weapons by Russian troops... are steps taken by Iran against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state, as well as against the life and health of Ukrainian citizens,” a spokesman for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sergii Nykyforov, said on Friday.


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Updated 25 September 2022

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ATHENS: A Molotov cocktail bomb was thrown against the Iranian embassy in Athens on Sunday, Athens News Agency reported.
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Iranian women cut their hair in a gesture of solidarity with Amini, brandishing placards reading “say her name!.”


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Updated 25 September 2022

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  • Kabuga was arrested in France in May 2020 after evading police in several countries for the last quarter of a century

THE HAGUE: Alleged Rwandan genocide financier Felicien Kabuga will go on trial in The Hague on Thursday, one of the last key suspects in the 1994 ethnic slaughter that devastated the small central African nation.
Kabuga’s trial will open at 0800 GMT before a UN tribunal, where he has been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the massacres 28 years ago of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Prosecutors and the defense are expected to make their opening statements on Thursday and Friday, with evidence in the case to start the following Wednesday.
Kabuga’s lawyers entered a not guilty plea to the charges at a first appearance in 2020.
Once one of Rwanda’s richest men, prosecutors say the octogenarian allegedly helped set up hate media that urged ethnic Hutus to “kill Tutsi cockroaches” and funded militia groups in 1994.
Now in his mid-80s, Kabuga was arrested in France in May 2020 after evading police in several countries for the last quarter of a century.
He was then transferred to the UN’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, set up to complete the work of the now defunct Rwanda war crimes tribunal.
Said to be in fragile health, Kabuga in August appeared before the judges in a wheelchair — and it was not known whether he’ll be in court on Thursday as judges are permitting him to attend the hearings via a video link.
Kabuga was originally scheduled to appear in court in Arusha, where the other arm of the IRMCT — also referred at as the MICT — resides, but judges had ruled he would remain in The Hague “until otherwise decided.”
In June, the judges denied a defense objection, ruling Kabuga was indeed fit to stand trial.

The UN says 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda in 1994 in a 100-day rampage that shocked the world.
An ally of Rwanda’s then-ruling party, Kabuga allegedly helped create the Interahamwe Hutu militia group and the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), whose broadcasts incited people to murder.
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More than 50 witnesses are expected to appear for the prosecution, which said they needed about 40 hours to wrap up their case.
Prosecutors said Kabuga controlled and encouraged RTLM’s content and defended the station when the minister of information criticized the broadcasts.
Kabuga is also accused of “distributing machetes” to genocidal groups, and ordering them to kill Tutsis.
Later fleeing Rwanda, Kabuga spent years on the run using a succession of false passports.
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Kabuga is one of the last top wanted suspects for the Rwandan genocide to face justice.
Others, including the man seen as the architect of the genocide, Augustin Bizimana, and former presidential guard commander Protais Mpiranya have both died.
Victims of the genocide have called for a swift trial for Kabuga saying “if he dies before facing justice, he would have died under the presumption of innocence.”


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Updated 25 September 2022

Philippines evacuates coasts, cancels sea trips as Super Typhoon Noru nears

Philippines evacuates coasts, cancels sea trips as Super Typhoon Noru nears
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Typhoon Noru, locally named Karding, became a super typhoon “after a period of explosive intensification,” with sustained winds increasing to 185 km (115 miles) per hour from 120 kph on Saturday evening, the disaster agency said in an advisory.
It will continue intensifying and may make landfall on Sunday afternoon or evening with 185 to 205 kph (115 to 127 mph) of sustained winds, it said.
“I asked our mayors to comply with strict preemptive evacuations,” Helen Tan, governor of Quezon province, told DZRH radio station. Fishermen in coastal communities were barred from heading to sea, she said.
Noru, the 11th tropical cyclone to hit the Philippines this year, will bring heavy to torrential rains over the capital region and nearby provinces on Sunday afternoon.
“Hopefully, this typhoon moves fast, although it brings strong winds,” said disaster agency spokesperson Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro. Authorities are on alert for landslides, flooding and destructive winds, he said.
The Philippine Coast Guard said more than 1,200 passengers and 28 vessels were stranded in ports south of the capital.
Noru was moving westward and likely to emerge over the South China Sea by late Sunday or early Monday.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, sees an average of 20 tropical storms a year.