A detained opposition politician in Pakistan, facing sedition charges, alleged Wednesday that his genitals were electrocuted while he was being subjected to torture in police custody to extract a confession.
Shahbaz Gill, a close aide to ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, talked to reporters outside a court in Islamabad. He spoke two weeks after he was arrested for allegedly making anti-military comments during a television talk show.
The 42-year-old assistant professor of business administration at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is Khan’s chief of staff.
Gill, his lawyers and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have repeatedly accused police of torturing him since taking him into custody on August 9.
There was no immediate official reaction to Gill’s statement. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has previously denied the torture allegations.
Gill’s statement came a day after Human Rights Watch demanded an urgent investigation into his complaints, citing “numerous credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment of political opponents” in Pakistan during previous governments.
The U.S.-based group also questioned sedition charges against the detained politician.
“Pakistan’s sedition law, based on a colonial-era British provision, is vague and overboard and has often been used against political opponents,” it said.
Human Rights Watch called on the Sharif government to urgently pass pending legislation in parliament that, if enacted, would make torture during investigations by Pakistan’s security forces a criminal offense.
Pakistan’s most watched ARY News television channel aired Gill’s alleged seditious statement.
The government subsequently removed the broadcaster from air, accusing it of being part of the opposition plot to incite mutiny in the army. The military has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 75-year history through coups against democratically elected governments, and criticism of the powerful institution is considered a red line.
Khan, meanwhile, has staged massive anti-government rallies since his ouster in a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April, demanding fresh national elections in the country.
On Saturday, the former prime minister told a crowd of thousands of his supporters in Islamabad that he would bring lawsuits against a senior police official and a judge for their roles in the alleged torture against Gill. “We will not spare you. … We will sue you,” Khan pledged.
The Sharif government on Sunday charged Khan under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws for threatening government officials, escalating political tensions across the country of about 220 million people.
Khan’s party leaders and thousands of supporters quickly rushed to his residence outside the capital, creating a human barrier there to resist any attempt by the police to arrest him.
The crowd dispersed on Monday after a court granted the former prime minister three days of protective bail, which ends on Thursday. Khan is expected to appear before an anti-terrorism tribunal to seek pre-arrest bail in the case registered against him by the government.
PTI leaders have rejected the terrorism charges against their party chief as “bogus” and political victimization.” Khan has said he has every right to approach the higher judiciary to seek justice for Gill in line with the constitution.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has not ruled out arresting Khan if the ousted leader fails to get bail on Thursday. “We will ensure that he is arrested from the court,” the minister told a local television channel.
Defense lawyer Babar Awan said Wednesday that Khan plans to personally appear before the anti-terrorism court.
“This is a fake case in which neither a bomb blast nor a Kalashnikov was used,” Awan said. “This move by the police to use anti-terrorism law [against Khan] has destroyed Pakistan’s narrative against terrorism developed over the last 20 years.”
Pakistan introduced anti-terrorism laws in the 1990s to deter sectarian and religiously motivated terrorism in the years that ensued. Successive governments have since used the legislation in cases against political opponents and critics to deter dissent.
The Sharif government has also filed terrorism charges against several journalists for accusing the military of playing a role in Khan’s ouster. Some of the journalists have been briefly detained while a couple of popular political talk show hosts have recently fled the country.
A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday he was aware of the charges brought against the former prime minister.
“He emphasizes the need for a competent, independent and impartial legal process. The secretary-general urges calm, lowering of tensions and respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Stéphane Dujarric told reporters.