Islamabad court nullifies Imran Khan conviction in state secrets leak

But former PM Khan will remain behind bars because of another conviction.

Former prime minister Imran Khan has been imprisoned since August 2023. [Bilawal Arbab/EPA]
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been imprisoned since August 2023 [Bilawal Arbab/EPA]

Islamabad, Pakistan — A court in Islamabad has annulled the sentence of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his close aide, former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in a case related to the leaking of state secrets.

Khan and Qureshi were sentenced to 10 years in prison on January 30 this year by a special court set up in a prison in Rawalpindi, just days before the country’s general elections.

The so-called cypher case pertains to a diplomatic cable that Khan claims proves his allegation that his removal from power in April 2022 was a conspiracy. The court established under the Official Secrets Act found Khan guilty of misusing the confidential cable sent by a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States.

Khan has repeatedly denied the charge, saying the document contained evidence that his removal as prime minister was a plot hatched by his political opponents and the country’s powerful military, with help from the US administration. Washington and the Pakistani army reject the accusation.

Khan, a former cricket star, was Pakistan’s premier from August 2018 to April 2022, when he lost a vote of confidence in the parliament. He has been in jail since August last year, facing trial in multiple cases.

However, despite the Islamabad High Court declaring the sentence void, Khan continues to remain behind bars due to his conviction in another case. On February 3, Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi were sentenced to seven years when a court in Rawalpindi declared that their marriage in 2018 violated Islamic law.

It is not yet clear whether Qureshi will be allowed to walk out of jail or not.

Sayed Zulfiqar Bukhari, a senior leader of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, said the Islamabad court’s decision was proof that the former PM’s legal troubles were the outcome of trumped-up cases to begin with.

“The court has now not only thrown this case aside, but also proven that it was yet another example of all the frivolous charges against former PM Khan and one by one, all such charges will soon come crumbling down,” he told Al Jazeera.

Khan, who is also the leader of the PTI party, filed an appeal against the verdict in the unlawful marriage case, and the decision was supposed to be announced last week.

However, the judge hearing the case excused himself from announcing the verdict after the complainant in the case, Khawar Maneka, who is also the ex-husband of Bushra Bibi, expressed his “distrust” in the judge. The case will now be heard on June 25 by a different judge.

Khan and Bushra Bibi were also declared guilty on January 31 in a case related to the illegal sale of state gifts, but in April their conviction was overturned by the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

The former PM, who has been facing several cases, has had some favourable judicial verdicts of late. Also on Monday, both Khan and Qureshi were — along with several other PTI leaders — acquitted in two cases related to vandalism during a protest rally organised by the PTI in May 2022.

Last month, the IHC also granted Khan bail in a high-profile land-deal case. Khan was accused of colluding with Malik Riaz, one of the country’s biggest property tycoons, in an alleged quid pro deal that caused the national exchequer a loss of more than $239m.

Khan was ousted from power through a vote of no confidence in April 2022. But tensions between Khan and the country’s traditional political and military establishment exploded after his supporters went on a rampage in May last year, attacking — among other facilities — military installations, following Khan’s arrest. That sparked a crackdown from security forces: Many PTI supporters and leaders were arrested; others went into hiding.

Khan himself was released in less than 48 hours, but was subsequently arrested and convicted in several other cases. He was declared ineligible to contest in the country’s February election because of the convictions. Election authorities also denied the PTI the use of its electoral symbol – the cricket bat.

Still, PTI-backed candidates won 93 seats, emerging as the largest political bloc in parliament. They currently lead the opposition.

Source: Al Jazeera