Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan has pleaded not guilty to charges of leaking state secrets under an indictment that deals a new blow to his chances of contesting Pakistan’s general election in February.
The charges are related to a classified cable called a cypher sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington last year that Khan is accused of making public.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“The charges were read out loudly in the courtroom,” government prosecutor Shah Khawar said on Wednesday, adding that Khan and his co-accused, former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, both denied the charges.
Khan’s lawyer Gohar Khan contested the indictment, saying it would be valid only if signed by the accused. The former prime minister has previously said the contents of the cable appeared in the media from other sources.
A guilty verdict under the Official Secrets Act could bring up to 10 years in prison, lawyers said.
It is the second time Khan has been indicted on the same charges after a superior court struck down an earlier indictment on technical grounds, saying the correct procedure had not been followed.
A new trial, being conducted in jail on security grounds, is due to begin on Thursday in the presence of his lawyers, family and a few selected journalists.
Khan, 71, has been in jail since he was convicted and sentenced to three years on corruption charges on August 5.
Khan says the cable was proof of a conspiracy by the Pakistani military and US government to topple his government in 2022 after he visited Moscow just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Washington and Pakistan’s military deny the accusations.
The former international cricketer won the last general election in 2018, a victory that his opponents say was achieved with the backing of the military. Khan and the military later fell out, mainly because of differences over the appointment of the chief of the main spy agency.
Khan has had dozens of legal cases filed against him, which he has denounced as an effort to banish him from politics.
The corruption sentence has been suspended by a higher court, but he remains in prison in connection with other cases, including a charge of instigating violence after one of his arrests.
Khan has been disqualified from contesting elections because of the conviction, but his legal team is pushing for his release on bail and an overturning of the ban.
The new indictment reduces his chances of being released from jail to campaign for his party before the elections on February 8.
Military trials of Khan supporters to begin
Also on Wednesday, Pakistan’s top court allowed military courts to resume the trials of more than 100 supporters of Khan on charges of attacking military installations during violent demonstrations that broke out following his arrest in May.
The latest order by the Supreme Court came less than two months after five judges on the same court stopped the trial of 103 civilians who were arrested as part of a crackdown on Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
The violence subsided only after Khan was released on orders of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Although Khan is also accused of inciting people to violence, he is not facing military trial.
Pakistan’s military has directly ruled the country for roughly half of its 76-year history and continues to exercise enormous power.