The former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in a case involving the leaking of state secrets. The ruling comes as Khan serves a concurrent three-year jail term for corruption, a charge he vehemently denies, dismissing all allegations as politically motivated.
The conviction under the Official Secrets Act 1932 adds another layer to Khan’s legal troubles just a week before the general elections, where he is prohibited from standing. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, “former foreign minister and vice-chairman of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party,” has also received a 10-year sentence in connection with the same case.
The case, known as the cipher case, revolves around the alleged leak of secret diplomatic correspondence by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington to Islamabad during Khan’s tenure as prime minister. The incident occurred during a rally in March 2022, a month before Khan faced a vote of no confidence and was ousted from power.
Addressing the public through his social media account, Khan urged citizens to seek justice through their votes on February 8 while maintaining peace. He emphasized that the charges against him were politically motivated and called on the public to reject any attempts to manipulate their choices.
The prosecution argued that Khan’s actions amounted to leaking classified documents and damaging diplomatic relations. The latter charge carries severe penalties, including life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Khan, who has been in Adiala jail since his arrest on 5 August, has consistently claimed that the charges against him are part of a larger conspiracy. The trial proceedings, held in a special court within the jail, have been shrouded in secrecy, with international media barred from attending.
Following the verdict, PTI expressed its intent to challenge the ruling, labeling it as illegal and a mockery of justice. In the final days, Khan’s legal team faced an unjust denial of participation and access to the proceedings in his case, a blatant violation of legal norms. Khan’s lawyers highlighted the absence of opportunities for legal representation and the cross-examination of witnesses.
In a concerning development, an explosion at an election campaign rally of PTI in Balochistan province resulted in the tragic death of four PTI workers and injuries to five others. While investigations are ongoing, initial reports suggest the possibility of an explosive device, raising questions about the safety of political events in the lead-up to the elections.
The sentencing, closely preceding the February 8 vote, has fueled allegations of unfair campaigning practices against the PTI. Despite official denials of a crackdown, many PTI leaders are either incarcerated or have defected, and the party’s candidates are compelled to run as independents.
The credibility of the upcoming elections is under scrutiny, given the sidelining of Imran Khan, still a popular political figure in Pakistan. The apparent front-runner is three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who returned from exile and has seen a notable shift in his legal fortunes, leading to speculation about establishment preferences.
As the political landscape undergoes rapid changes, the fate of Imran Khan and the PTI remains uncertain, raising concerns about the democratic process in Pakistan.