Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan, wife sentenced to 14 years in state gifts case

Verdict comes a day after another court convicted Khan of leaking state secrets and gave him a 10-year prison sentence.

Imran Khan Bushra Bibi
Imran Khan, right, and his wife Bushra Bibi sign documents at the Lahore High Court in Lahore, Pakistan [File: KM Chaudary/AP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi have been sentenced to 14 years in jail in a case related to the illegal sale of state gifts.

An accountability court in Rawalpindi, which deals with corruption cases, on Wednesday also ruled that the couple would be ineligible to contest for public office for 10 years while also slapping a fine of 787 million rupees ($2.8m) on each of them.

The sentencing came a day after Khan was given a 10-year prison term for revealing state secrets. It was unclear whether the sentences are to run consecutively or concurrently.

Khan is already in jail since August, facing trial in several cases. His lawyer Intezar Hussain Panjutha told Al Jazeera that Bushra Bibi has also surrendered to prison authorities.

Khan was handed a three-year prison sentence in August in a case brought by the Election Commission of Pakistan for not disclosing assets based on the sale of state gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) he received when he was the prime minister from 2018 to April 2022. The sentencing in that case was suspended. The latest sentencing pertains to a parallel case brought by an anti-corruption agency, in which Khan and his wife are accused of graft in the sale of state gifts.

The convictions against arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician came about a week before the general elections on February 8.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has already been stripped of its election symbol, the cricket bat, with all of its candidates contesting as independents.

PTI official Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari said the sentencing of Khan was “yet another sad day in Pakistan’s judicial history” and questioned its legitimacy.

“Judiciary is being dismantled. A flawed decision meant to be suspended by the higher court, as witnesses clearly seemed compromised,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Star witnesses were changed … with no cross-questioning allowed, no final argument concluded, and the decision pops up like a predetermined process in play. This ridiculous decision will be challenged in superior courts.”

‘Generals telling voters: Don’t turn up to vote’

Pakistani political analyst Cyril Almeida said Khan’s conviction is a message from the powerful military to the people before the vote next week.

“The generals are telling the voter: don’t bother. Don’t bother turning up to vote for Imran because he will not be allowed near power again anytime soon,” he told Al Jazeera. “Whether the voters obey [the army] will be known next week. The charges are political, the conviction is political and, if and when the time comes, the reversal will be political.”

Pakistan’s military enjoys vast political clout and has directly ruled over the country for three decades since the South Asian nation was formed in 1947. While no prime minister in Pakistan’s history has completed their tenure, three of four military dictators ruled for nearly a decade each.

Lawyer Rida Hosain said the haste with which the back-to-back convictions against Khan were announced is inexplicable.

“The right to a fair trial lies at the heart of any civilised society governed by the rule of law. Even those accused of the harshest of crimes must get a fair process. It is blatant that there was no fair process in this case,” she told Al Jazeera.

However, Ashtar Ausaf Ali, a former attorney general of Pakistan, said the PTI’s lawyers were provided ample opportunity to present their arguments. “They failed to rebut or impeach the prosecution’s case,” he said.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the United States State Department refused to comment on Khan’s sentencing in the state secrets case.

“Of course, we want to see the democratic process unfold in a way that allows broad participation for all parties and respects democratic principles. We don’t take a position, as you have heard us say before, about internal Pakistani matters, and we don’t take a position with respect to candidates for office in Pakistan,” spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters.

“We want to see a free, fair and open democratic process, and when it comes to legal matters, those are matters for the Pakistani courts to decide.”

Source: Al Jazeera