Party officials and lawyers of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan complained Sunday that authorities had denied them access in jail to Khan a day after he was arrested on a corruption conviction.
On Saturday, a federal judge in Islamabad sentenced the 70-year-old opposition leader to three years in prison on charges of illegally selling state gifts, including watches, charges Khan denies as politically motivated to keep him out of politics.
Police took Khan into custody at his home in the eastern city of Lahore minutes after the verdict was announced in his and his lawyers' absence before transferring him to Attock prison, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) west of the Pakistani capital.
A party spokesperson for legal matters said Sunday that Khan's team of lawyers could not meet him in the jail to inquire about his well-being and have him sign crucial legal documents to appeal the trial court decision swiftly and apply for bail.
"Attock Prison is a 'No Go' area for (his) legal team as well as locals in the vicinity," said Naeem Haider Panjutha in a statement released by Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, party.
Pakistani government officials did not immediately comment on allegations that Khan was being denied access to his lawyers and kept in jail under harsh conditions — as opposed to facilities a former prime minister is entitled to — in line with the country's prison system.
Unless overturned by an appeals court, the conviction will disqualify the PTI chief from running in a national election for five years.
Khan's party vice chairman, former Foreign Affairs Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said in a video message late Sunday that the country's former prime minister was being held in the notorious Attock prison, and they were not allowed to take him food. "His life is in danger," Qureshi asserted without elaborating.
On Sunday, PTI supporters were in the streets across the country for a second day to protest their leader's arrest, but they largely remained peaceful. His party officials alleged that police had detained scores of supporters to deter any mass uprising.
The cricket legend-turned-political leader's arrest came days before incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's coalition government was expected to dissolve parliament this week, allowing a caretaker setup to take charge and organize new elections in Pakistan.
"I will dissolve my government and the National Assembly on August 9," Sharif told a rally in Punjab province Sunday. "After that, an interim government will take over, and elections will be held."
Legal experts and critics have questioned Saturday's court ruling, saying it was politically motivated because Khan remains the most popular politician in Pakistan.
"The punishment is all the more problematic after the concerns raised by several observers over the manner in which the trial was conducted and the seeming haste with which the judgment was issued," an editorial in the English-language Dawn newspaper said Sunday.
Khan was ousted from power in April 2022 in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, which he rejected as illegal and orchestrated by Pakistan's powerful military to enable Sharif to replace him.
The PTI leader was also arrested in May in a separate case before the country's Supreme Court outlawed the move. But it quickly sparked nationwide protests by his supporters and clashes with riot police.
In some cities, protesters also stormed military installations, prompting a nationwide government crackdown on PTI workers and the detention of thousands, with more than 100 put on trial in controversial Pakistani military courts.
Analysts said the crackdown had deterred PTI supporters from organizing significant protests of Khan's latest arrest. Politicians and commentators point fingers at the military for the crisis facing Khan and his party.
The military has ruled Pakistan over nearly half its 75-year history by staging coups against elected governments. Generals have influenced political happenings even when they are not in power and orchestrated the toppling of prime ministers because they had fallen out with the military.
"It must be asked why our state periodically subjects popular leaders to such humiliation when it routinely ignores far more serious crimes," the Dawn wrote in its editorial.
It recounted that several Pakistani prime ministers had suffered the kind of treatment being meted out to Khan, but such attempts would not make him irrelevant, as was the case with his predecessor.
"The experiment was tried in the earlier two cases and failed, and the state seems to be repeating the same mistake, only to weaken a fraying social contract further," the newspaper cautioned.
Former Pakistani military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa admitted in a nationally televised speech before stepping down from office last November that his institution has been illegally interfering in national politics for seven decades.