Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan gets 10 years in prison ahead of elections

Jan 29, 2024, 11:37 PM | Updated: Jan 30, 2024, 4:56 pm

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani court convicted former Prime Minister Imran Khan of revealing official secrets on Tuesday and handed him his harshest sentence yet of 10 years — the latest in a slew of legal cases that supporters say are meant to sideline the imprisoned politician just days ahead of parliamentary elections.

Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in 2022, is not on the ballot because he is already serving a three-year prison term — and more than 150 other cases are still pending against him. The former cricket star nonetheless remains a potent political force because of his grassroots following and anti-establishment rhetoric.

However, Pakistan saw violent demonstrations after Khan’s arrest last year, and authorities have cracked down on the Islamist politician’s supporters and party since then, making them wary of staging new rallies.

The Feb. 8 elections come at a sensitive time in Pakistan, which is mired in an economic crisis that Khan’s successor, Shehbaz Sharif, struggled to manage. Sharif was only able to get a bailout from the International Monetary Fund by agreeing to a substantial increase in tariffs on gas and electricity that led to alarming price hikes on everyday goods and made his party unpopular.

On Tuesday, Khan was convicted in what is popularly known as the cipher case, in which he was accused of exposing state secrets by waving a confidential document at a rally. Pakistan’s governmnet has not made the document public but is believed to be diplomatic correspondence between the Pakistani ambassador to Washington and the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad.

Khan claimed the document was proof he was being threatened and that his ouster was a U.S. conspiracy, allegedly executed by the military and the government in Pakistan. American and Pakistani officials have denied the claim.

A special court at the prison in the garrison city of Rawalpindi where Khan is being held announced the verdict, according to Zulfiqar Bukhari, chief spokesman for Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI. During the trial, Bukhari said, even some members of Khan’s legal team were denied access to the court. Journalists were also barred from covering the proceedings.

A senior official in the party, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who was accused of manipulating the contents of the diplomatic cable to gain political advantage, was also convicted and given a 10-year sentence.

One of Khan’s sisters, Aleema Khan, denounced the trial and said her brother was denied a fair hearing. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Khan, she said, adding that the verdict was delivered in haste.

She urged Khan’s supporters to turn out in large numbers at the polls on Feb. 8 and vote for PTI candidates in solidarity with her brother. Qureshi’s family similarly denounced his verdict and vowed to challenge it in court.

Khan has maintained his innocence, saying he did not disclose the exact contents of the cable. His party said Khan’s legal team planned to appeal the conviction before the Islamabad High Court on Wednesday.

Other charges against Khan range from contempt of court to terrorism and inciting violence.

Despite discontent with the government, analysts say turnout in the upcoming election may remain low since Khan is the only one in his party who had the charisma to attract the masses.

“The dejected and disappointed supporters of Imran Khan will stay away from the voting because they have a fear in their mind that their party is not going to win the elections,” said Azim Chaudhry, a political analyst, calling PTI a “leaderless party.”

Pakistan’s human rights commission has said there is little chance of a free and fair parliamentary election since so many candidates from Khan’s party have been rejected.

The PTI said in a statement that it stands with Khan and Qureshi, “who defended Pakistan and stood for real independence.” The party described the proceedings as a “sham trial” and said the judge did not even allow Khan’s and Qureshi’s lawyers to defend them.

However, the party asked his supporters to remain peaceful and not resort to violence.

“We should harness and channel these energies for the polling day” to ensure that Khan’s candidates win the vote “with a thumping majority,” said Omar Ayub, a longtime supporter.

Pakistan has a history of arresting former prime ministers or sidelining them ahead of elections if they are deemed to pose a challenge to the security establishment.

In 2018, three-time premier and Khan’s rival Nawaz Sharif was hobbled by legal cases and prison sentences. Khan’s party won the polls and formed a coalition government.

This time around, Sharif has a clear path to a fourth term in office after the supreme court acquitted him on all charges and scrapped a lifetime ban on politicians with criminal convictions from contesting elections.


Follow AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific


A hand written sign adds Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, during the R...

Associated Press

RNC convenes after an assassination attempt and Trump chose a running mate: Takeaways from day 1

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Trump-Vance 2024. The Republican presidential ticket came together on Monday when Donald Trump named JD Vance as his running mate. In turning to the 39-year-old Ohio senator, the Republican nominee injected new energy into a campaign that has centered in recent weeks on questions of age following President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate […]

1 hour ago

FILE - People walk past May Hall, the main administrative building at Dickinson State University in...

Associated Press

President of Dickinson State University in North Dakota resigns after nursing faculty quit

DICKINSON, N.D. (AP) — The president of Dickinson State University in North Dakota announced his resignation on Monday, days after the school’s nursing faculty quit. In a video, Steve Easton announced his departure and acknowledged “turmoil between some in the faculty and the administration.” Seven faculty members resigned Wednesday, KFYR-TV reported. Former Assistant Professor of […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

FACT FOCUS: A look at false claims around the assassination attempt on former President Trump

The assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump, who is running for reelection, is fueling a range of false claims and conspiracy theories as authorities seek information about the 20-year-old shooter’s background and motive, how he obtained the AR-style rifle he fired at Trump and security at the venue that failed to stop the shooting. […]

4 hours ago

FILE - Christina Osborn and her children, Alexander Osborn and Bella Araiza, visit a makeshift memo...

Associated Press

Judge clears way for demolition of Texas church where 26 people were killed in 2017 shooting

FLORESVILLE, Texas (AP) — A judge on Monday cleared the way for the demolition of the small Texas church in Sutherland Springs where a gunman killed more than two dozen worshippers in 2017 in what remains the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history. Following the shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the church […]

4 hours ago

RNC Chair Michael Whatley speaks during the Republican National Convention Monday, July 15, 2024, i...

Associated Press

Outside RNC, conservative group defends its Project 2025 guidebook as Democrats ramp up attacks

MILWAUKEE (AP) — At the edge of the cordoned-off perimeter around the Republican National Convention on Monday, hundreds of conservatives filed into the ornate home of the Milwaukee Symphony to hear a parade of luminaries talk policy and Project 2025. Project 2025 is the term for the Heritage Foundation’s nearly 1,000-page handbook for the next […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

‘Hillbilly Elegy’: JD Vance’s rise to vice presidential candidate began with a bestselling memoir

NEW YORK (AP) — At the heart of J.D. Vance’s journey from venture capitalist to vice presidential candidate is a memoir he first thought of in graduate school, “Hillbilly Elegy.” Vance’s bestseller about his roots in rural Kentucky and blue-collar Ohio made him a national celebrity soon after its publication in the summer of 2016, […]

5 hours ago

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan gets 10 years in prison ahead of elections