Jailed ex-PM Imran Khan appears before Pakistan top court by videolink

The court appearance of the 71-year-old leader was not livestreamed on the court’s website or aired on news channels.

Former prime minister Imran Khan has been imprisoned since August 2023. [Bilawal Arbab/EPA]
Supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan demanding his release [File: Bilawal Arbab/EPA]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan has made a virtual appearance before the Supreme Court through a videolink from prison in connection with a case regarding amendments to the country’s anticorruption law.

Thursday’s hearing was the first time Khan, imprisoned since August 2023 in several cases, made an appearance before the top court.

However, the court appearance of the 71-year-old leader was not livestreamed on the top court’s website or aired on the country’s news channels.

Al Jazeera reached out to Information Minister Attaullah Tarar for his comments on why the hearing was not broadcast on news channels or the Supreme Court website, but did not receive any response.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI) accused Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa of collusion with the government for not allowing the hearing from being broadcast to the people.

“Our party believes that the chief justice of the country is in connivance with the security establishment and their aim is to hurt PTI in every possible manner,” the main opposition party’s Aamir Mughal told Al Jazeera. “Establishment” in Pakistan is a euphemism for its powerful army, which has directly ruled over the country for nearly three decades and enjoys immense political power.

Shortly after Khan lost a no-confidence vote in parliament in April 2022, the government that succeeded him amended the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, clipping the powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan’s main anticorruption agency.

The changes in law barred the NAB from investigating a case unless the transactional value was more than 500 million rupees ($6m) or the number of “affected individuals” in a case exceeded 100. It also said its trial against an accused must be concluded in a year and that the agency must present evidence against an individual before making an arrest.

The amendments to the law saw the withdrawal of at least 22 corruption-related cases from the NAB courts. The cases involved current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, President Asif Ali Zardari, and former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani among others.

In July 2022, Khan filed a petition in the Supreme Court, charging the government of protecting “influential people” and legitimising corruption through the amendments, and asking the court to scrap the changes.

The top court on Thursday adjourned its hearing on the matter. Khan did not speak during his video appearance.

Khan’s appearance before the top court came a day after he was granted relied by two other courts. The Islamabad High Court gave him bail in a high-profile land deal case while another court in the capital acquitted him in a 2022 case in connection with a protest march.

But Khan continues to remain in jail due to his conviction in two other cases related to the leaking of state secrets and unlawful marriage. He was sentenced for 14 years in another case related to illegal sale of state gifts but the sentence was overturned by Islamabad High Court in April this year.

It was in the land deal case that Khan was briefly detained on May 9 last year, triggering nationwide protests by the PTI and leading to an unprecedented government crackdown on the party, which included Khan’s imprisonment in several cases in August.

PTI politician Sayed Zulfikar Bukhari told Al Jazeera he was hopeful Khan will be a “free man soon”.

“We have always maintained that as these cases go to higher courts, not only will Khan get bail, but he will also win these as they are all baseless and have no factual standing,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera