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After former President Trump was indicted and arrested on multiple criminal charges last year, it was noted that this was unprecedented in American political history. The liberal press quickly responded that this was standard operating procedure in many countries throughout the world, so it was no big deal for it to occur here. “Many Democracies have Prosecuted Ex-Leaders,” The New York Times, 6/8/23; “Indicting Leaders Is Common for Functioning Democracies,” Time Magazine, 3/31/23.

They are correct that the practice of prosecuting your political opposition’s leaders on contrived criminal charges once they leave office is widespread. However, I’m not so sure that’s necessarily a hallmark of healthy democracies.

Consider the news today from Pakistan about former prime minister Imran Khan. There are myriad accounts out there, but The London Telegraph’s reporting (1/31/24) is succinct and to the point:

“Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for revealing state secrets, just days before a national election. The ruling on Tuesday marks the former cricket star turned Islamist politician’s second conviction in recent months and ensures he will remain in jail ahead of next week’s vote.”

“He is facing more than 150 cases in total, with other charges ranging from contempt of court to terrorism and inciting violence.”

“Although he is not on the ballot, the former cricketer remains a potent political force because of his grass-roots following, attracted in part by his anti-establishment rhetoric.”

“Pakistan’s human rights commission has said there is little chance February’s parliamentary election would be free and fair because of “pre-poll” rigging. It also expressed concern about authorities rejecting the candidacies of Khan and senior members from his party.”

Does any of this sound familiar? A former leader arrested at the behest of the political/intelligence establishment? Someone whose arrest and conviction just happens to coincide with the run-up to national elections? Last-minute electoral changes to ensure the outcome the country’s Deep State, in Pakistan, the “Interservice Intelligence,” wants? (I’m sure they’d claim, like here, they were not rigging the election but “fortifying” or “saving” it!) Someone charged with disclosing state secrets because they held up a document while speaking to supporters? Even though the document itself was never made public? Are we seeing a pattern here? A simulcast from New York and Rawalpindi?

Bloomberg News suggests that Trump had joined a “Notorious Club: World Leaders Who Got in Legal Trouble.” Is the real notoriety, though, that of the people arrested? Or does it belong instead to the societies where it is accepted practice to arrest your political enemies on contrived and multiple criminal charges after leaving office so they can never return to power?

The irony is that in 2016, in very similar circumstances, Donald Trump actually showed restraint and magnanimity towards Hillary Clinton. Urged by supporters to prosecute her on espionage charges (“Lock her up!”), Trump declined. He said pursuing her legally smacked of what happened in third-world countries, that he had no desire to hurt the Clintons, and that he wanted the nation to heal after a divisive election. A lot of good it did him.

Imran Khan and Donald Trump should be considered “outlaws” in the original sense of the word. It didn’t mean someone who broke the law but instead someone from whom the law protection was withheld, i.e., a person, for example, who had been declared a public enemy and thus forfeited their personal liberty and property without due process and a fair trial.

The shame and notoriety at this moment lie not with Khan and Trump but with their countries’ Deep States, which engineered their prosecutions. It is not Imran Khan and Donald Trump who are the threats to democracy and the rule of law. It is their political opponents.

Khan is the eighth prime minister of Pakistan to be arrested and imprisoned upon leaving office. It should also be noted that his property was confiscated six years ago at the time of his first arrest, just as the New York courts are trying to destroy Trump’s real estate empire by hitting him with huge legal judgments: The question is not whether this behavior is the rule in most of the world, but rather, why would we want to normalize it in our country?

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Photo: NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 11: Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom during his civil fraud trial at New York Supreme Court on January 11, 2024 in New York City. Trump won't make his own closing arguments after his lawyers objected to Judge Arthur Engoron's insistence that Trump stay within the bounds of "relevant, material facts that are in evidence" of the case. Trump faces a permanent ban from running a business in New York state and $370 million in penalties in the case brought by state Attorney General Letitia James. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)