The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has decided to open another attraction in the already overcrowded Panama circus, with little regard for a weary audience. While the nation waits with bated breath to hear the verdict in the Panama trial, the party has decided to file a defamation case against Imran Khan for the same accusatory statements that have led to the trial and are currently under the courts purview. On the eve of a crucial verdict, a new complication has been thrown into the mix.

Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb and the ruling PML-N’s MNA Daniyal Aziz – who made the announcement in a press conference – claim that the charges are “not political victimisation”, but unfortunately nobody will share their point of view. The timing – right before what many expect to be an unfavourable verdict for the government – belies a calculated pushback; a notion further affirmed considering these “defamatory” remarks have been around since the Panama story broke. The thinly disguised anger doesn’t help either; an apoplectic press conference makes it harder to claim that the charges aren’t borne out of a will to harm the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) for putting the government under pressure.

Furthermore, the charges themselves are muddled and confused. There is a contempt of court charge for “seeking to influence the judges” by making a documentary, and for besmirching the reputation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif through electronic, print and social media. The “documentary”, which quotes the remarks made by the judges against the government’s position is surely a skewed version of events, as the PTI intended it to be, but it cannot be construed as defamation and definitely not as an attempt to influence the judges. It is no different from the dozens of television shows and news articles that cherry pick information to paint a certain picture. An attempt to influence the judges needs to be more potent than a compilation of their own remarks.

As far as defamation goes, we won’t know if Imran Khan’s allegations are baseless or otherwise unless the court makes a decision in the actual case – making the pre-emptive charge all the more befuddling.

Regardless, defamation charges against politicians for political speech are a dime a dozen, few of which ever qualify for the legal definition of slander or defamation. Imran Khan has been hit by several such charges before, including by people like Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Qaumi Watan Party MPA Bakht Baidar. None of these have amounted to any legal sanction.

But the context of this suit makes it more problematic. PML-N has muddied the waters when we were expecting the Panama verdict to clear matters – insuring that the Panama circus will continue in perpetuity.