Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan sentenced to 10 years jail

Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan sentenced to 10 years jail
Khan, who had been in office for years before he was ousted in 2022, was sentenced to prison two weeks before Pakistan's upcoming election.
4 min read
Supporters of Imran Khan's and his party have demanded the former Prime Minister be released from prison [Photo by ABDUL MAJEED/AFP via Getty Images]

Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison, less than two weeks before the country votes in an election his party has been hamstrung from contesting.

Pakistan goes to the polls next Thursday in a ballot already marred by allegations of pre-vote rigging, with Khan barred from running and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party subject to a massive crackdown.

"You have to take revenge for every injustice with your vote on February 8," Khan said in a statement addressed to the electorate, posted on his X profile.

"Tell them that we are not sheep that can be driven with a stick."

Khan was disqualified from standing over a previous graft conviction, one of dozens of court challenges he says have been orchestrated to prevent his return to office after a campaign of defiance against Pakistan's military kingmakers.

Tuesday's conviction for leaking classified state documents was handed down inside Adiala jail - where Khan has been confined for much of the time since his August arrest.

The same sentence was given to Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the former PTI vice-chairman who served as foreign minister during Khan's four-year premiership until he was ousted in 2022.

PTI lawyers said they were ousted from the proceedings, denying their leaders fair representation.

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"This is unconstitutional, this is against the principles of natural justice," barrister Salman Safdar told AFP.

'Murder of justice'

About 127 million Pakistanis are eligible to vote in nine days, with Khan and PTI at the centre of debate despite being squeezed out of the limelight.

"This is a murder of justice," said Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a human rights activist and political analyst. "But his popularity among the people will grow in leaps and bounds as his sympathisers will increase."

When Khan was first arrested in May last year, riots broke out in cities across the country.

But his street power was killed by a subsequent military crackdown which saw thousands of supporters detained - 100 of whom are facing closed-door military trials - and dozens of senior leaders forced underground.

In Khan's northwestern powerbase province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa voters remained bullish about his prospects at the ballot box.

"Imposing a sentence will not affect Imran Khan and his party," predicted 33-year-old welder Inayatullah Khan in Peshawar city. "If he were in a coffin instead of jail, I would still vote for him."

Tuesday's sentence "will only prompt voters to express their anger on the ballot paper", added 37-year-old pharmaceutical worker Alif Rahman.

Khan had accused the powerful military establishment - with whom he ruled in partnership for much of his tenure - of orchestrating his ousting in 2022 in a US-backed conspiracy.

He touted diplomatic cables at huge opposition rallies as apparent proof of his claim, prompting his prosecution under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act which resulted in Tuesday's sentence.

He also alleged the top brass plotted an assassination bid which wounded him, but failed to provide any evidence of his claims.

Muted campaign

PTI has moved most of its campaigning online, where it has been marred by state-imposed internet blackouts.

The party founded by former cricket star Khan has also been stripped of its cricket bat election symbol.

In a nation where literacy lags, icons are vital for identifying candidates on ballot papers and the Supreme Court injunction has effectively forced PTI hopefuls to run as independents.

When state media reported Khan's Tuesday conviction they did not use his name, obeying strict censorship measures that have alarmed rights monitors.

Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif - head of one of the two dynastic parties that have historically helmed Pakistan - has returned from self-imposed exile and seen his myriad convictions dissolve in the courts.

Analysts say it is a sign the three-time former prime minister is the favoured candidate of the military, which has directly ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its history.

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But the result has been a lacklustre campaign criticised for failing to engage with voters, as the nation battles economic and security crises.

"With the state constantly spoiling the mood with its ongoing, violent crackdown on one of the country's most popular parties, the citizenry is withdrawing from the process," said an editorial in Dawn newspaper last week.