ISLAMABAD (AP) — A close aide of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan who was recently arrested on treason charges for alleged anti-military remarks was hospitalized this week after complaining of breathing difficulties, officials said Friday.
Shahbaz Gill, who is also the chief of staff at Khan’s opposition Tehreek-e-Insaf party, was arrested after appearing earlier this month on private ARY TV in the southern port city of Karachi, when he allegedly incited troops and officers to mutiny.
During the broadcast, Gill, a known critic of the military, said soldiers and officers should refuse to obey “illegal orders" from the military leadership. He implied that the rank and file in the military overwhelmingly supports Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April.
After the TV interview, Gill was arrested and charged with treason, which under Pakistani law carries the death penalty. ARY TV was taken off air and its broadcasting license was subsequently revoked. The station's new director Ammad Yousaf was briefly arrested but was later released.
According to security officials, Gill was taken from his jail cell to hospital on Wednesday after telling the guards that he had difficulty breathing. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss Gill's situation.
Khan had accused the police of “torture and abuse" but they deny mistreating Gill, insisting that Khan's aide was unwell because he suffers from chronic asthma, according to reports in local media.
The police later released a statement on Gill’s medical condition, saying he is medically fit to be questioned.
Khan has called his supporters to rally in Islamabad on Saturday to denounce Gill’s arrest.
On Friday, Gill appeared briefly before a court in Islamabad, in a wheelchair and using an oxygen tank, after police demanded they be allowed to question him further. The court, however, ordered that Gill remain in hospital till Monday, when his medical documents would be again reviewed.
In Pakistan, police cannot question detained suspects while they are in hospital, even though they remain in custody.
Khan came to power in 2018, promising to break the pattern of family rule in Pakistan, but his opponents said he was elected with help from the powerful military, which has ruled the country for half of its 75-year history.
After his ouster in April, Khan claimed the military took part in an alleged U.S. plot to oust him. Washington, the Pakistani military and the government of Khan's successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, have denied the charge.