Pakistan court suspends ex-PM Imran Khan’s conviction in state gifts case

The Islamabad High Court suspends Khan’s three-year jail sentence on corruption charges and orders his release on bail.

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan, center, is escorted by security officials as he arrive to appear in a court, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, May 12, 2023. A high court in Islamabad has granted Khan a two-week reprieve from arrest in a graft case and granted him bail on the charge. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
Khan has been in prison since he was sentenced to three years on August 5 on charges of unlawfully selling state gifts [File: Anjum Naveed/AP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – A Pakistani court has suspended the conviction and three-year prison sentence of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the state gifts depository case.

The two-member bench of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday ordered Khan’s release on bail.

Khan, 70, was convicted on August 5 by a trial court for not declaring the assets he made from selling the gifts he received from foreign governments and leaders during his premiership between 2018 and 2022.

The cricketer-turned-politician, who is facing more than 100 cases since he lost a confidence vote in the parliament in April 2022, is jailed in the northwestern Attock city, about 88km (54 miles) from Islamabad.

Khan was also barred by the country’s election commission from contesting elections for five years following his imprisonment.

Sayed Zulfiqar Bukhari, spokesman for Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, hailed the court’s decision and demanded his immediate release, saying no “misadventure” should now take place.

“We are extremely happy and overjoyed that Khan got the bail and has been ordered to be released. His safety and bringing him back home is our number one priority,” Bukhari told Al Jazeera.

“Our only concern is to get him home safely and that no misadventure is tried by the authorities outside Attock prison. If something like that happens, it will only further weaken the judicial system and rule of law in the country.”

The PTI official said the party would have liked if Khan was given a “complete acquittal” by the court, but added that he was confident the Supreme Court will grant that relief.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif slammed the Islamabad court’s order, saying Khan’s conviction was only “suspended” and not “terminated”.

“When everyone knows what the decision will be before it is announced, it should be a matter of concern for the justice system. If a clear message is delivered by a higher court, what other choice does a subordinate court have,” Sharif wrote in Urdu on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The IHC’s decision came days after Pakistan’s Supreme Court observed that the trial court verdict had “procedural defects”.

Earlier on Tuesday, PTI filed a plea before the IHC, seeking a ban on authorities rearresting Khan.

On Monday, the PTI chief was given more relief by a court in Balochistan province which quashed a sedition case against him.

However, despite the two court orders, Khan’s legal woes are expected to continue.

Last week, an antiterrorism court in Lahore allowed the police to detain and interrogate Khan in connection with the violence that erupted following the opposition leader’s brief detention in May this year.

The government alleged PTI workers were behind the violence and launched a severe crackdown, arresting thousands of PTI leaders and supporters.

Khan repeatedly rejected the allegations, saying the government was trying to prevent him from contesting the general elections.

Pakistan was scheduled to hold elections by November. But they look unlikely this year as the election commission is busy redrawing constituencies according to the latest census.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies