Pakistan's government said Friday that 17 more supporters of Imran Khan would be tried in military courts over recent anti-government violence, bringing the overall number of followers of the former prime minister facing military tribunals so far to 33.
The development comes amid a government crackdown on Khan's opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and its supporters over the violent demonstrations that followed Khan's arrest earlier this month in Islamabad.
For days, Khan's followers attacked public property and military installations across the country. The violence subsided only after Khan was released on orders of Pakistan's Supreme Court. At least 10 people were killed in clashes between Khan's supporters and police.
Interior Minister Rasan Sanaullah Khan, who is not related to the former premier, said that "only 33 suspects have been selected for military trials" -- although police arrested nearly 5,000 of Khan's supporters over the past two weeks.
The minister said about 80 per cent of those detained were released on bail pending trials in civilian courts. He also denounced Imran Khan, a crocket star turned Islamist politician, saying that as opposition leader, he was the "mastermind of the violent attacks on military installations."
"We have evidence to back it up," the minister said without elaborating.
Khan himself faces more than 100 legal cases, including on graft charges during his 2018-2022 term as premier, and has also been charged with terrorism for inciting people to violence. In courts, he has won protection from arrest in multiple cases, pending trial.
On Thursday, Khan proposed talks between the government and his party with the aim to end the ongoing political turmoil. The government has not responded to the offer.
On Friday, Khan claimed that several of his party officials and lawmakers have "quit at gunpoint" -- and have not left his camp because of the rioting by his supporters, as some have said.
Separately from the political turmoil, Pakistan is also struggling with an unprecedented economic downturn. Talks between the government of Khan's successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and the International Monetary Fund for the revival of the $6 billion bailout package have been on the hold since December.
Khan has claimed that his April 2022 ouster in a no-confidence vote in Parliament was illegal and a conspiracy by Sharif, Washington and the military to discredit him. All three have denied the allegations.
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