Imran Khan gets 10-year jail term for revealing state secrets

Khan’s legal team will appeal the sentence, the most severe the former Prime Minister received so far.

A special court in Pakistan sentenced former prime minister and cricket legend Imran Khan to 10 years in prison on Tuesday for disclosing state secrets, the most severe punishment he has faced so far and one that comes just days before a general election.

The court convicted Khan, 71, of making public the contents of a confidential cable sent by Pakistan’s envoy in Washington to the Islamabad government, according to his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a former foreign minister, also received a 10-year sentence in the same case.

Khan had already been given a three-year jail term in a corruption case in August, which prevented him from participating in the public sphere before the Feb. 8 election.

The court is expected to issue a written judgment within a day or two. Khan’s PTI party said it would appeal the ruling.

“We don’t accept this illegal decision,” Khan’s lawyer, Naeem Panjutha, wrote on social media platform X.

The PTI has not urged its supporters to protest or demonstrate before the election. A blast in Pakistan’s Balochistan region claimed the lives of three PTI members on Tuesday, the party said, shortly after Khan was sentenced. There was no information on who was behind the attack.

Zulfikar Bukhari, an aide to Khan, told Reuters that the legal team was not given an opportunity to defend Khan or question witnesses. The trial was conducted in the high-security Adiala jail in Rawalpindi.

Ali Zafar, another of Khan’s lawyers, told ARY television that the case would be overturned on appeal, given the circumstances of the trial and sentencing. He said the chances of that happening were “100%”.

Bukhari said the conviction was an attempt to undermine Khan’s popularity. “People will now make sure they come out and vote in larger numbers,” he told Reuters.

Khan was previously sentenced to three years in a corruption case, which had already ruled him out of the election next week.

His legal team was hoping to get him released from jail, where he has been since August last year, but the latest conviction means that is unlikely even as the charges are challenged in a higher court.

The party of Nawaz Sharif, Khan’s main political rival and a three-time prime minister, said the verdict was too lenient.

“I think, based on his carelessness and crime – pertaining to important national interests – this is a very light sentence,” Ahsan Iqbal, a senior Sharif aide, said in a TV interview.

Analysts believe Sharif’s party is the favorite to form the next government. Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, were found guilty and imprisoned over graft charges days before the last general election in 2018. Analysts say that that helped Khan win, while Khan’s sentence now helps Sharif. Both accuse the military of meddling in politics.

Khan’s sentencing just before the polls will “raise questions about the election’s credibility”, said Mazhar Abbas, a Karachi-based analyst.

Pakistan’s recovery from an economic crisis depends on political stability. The election comes as Pakistan is following a difficult recovery path under a $3 billion International Monetary Fund bailout that helped it narrowly avoid a sovereign default last year.

Khan has been facing dozens of cases since he was removed from power in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in 2022.

Khan claims the secret cable mentioned in the case was evidence of a plot by the Pakistani military and the U.S. government to overthrow his government in 2022 after he visited Moscow, just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Washington and the Pakistan military deny the allegations.

Khan has previously stated that the contents of the cable were already reported in the media from other sources.

Khan’s PTI suffered a major blow this month when a court upheld the Election Commission’s decision to take away the party’s traditional election symbol, the cricket bat.

His candidates are now running as independents, many of them on the run amid what the party calls a crackdown backed by the military. The military denies this.

Before the verdict, Khan’s media team shared a message from the imprisoned leader on X.

The post said: “They are trying to incite you by giving me a severe punishment in this case. They want you to protest on the streets, then infiltrate the crowd with strangers and then stage another fake attack.”

Last May, when Khan was arrested for the first time, his supporters faced riot charges, and hundreds of them were detained and prosecuted. Khan claims his supporters did not join the violence. Many of them have been arrested while participating in later party events or protests.

Khan asked his supporters to vote for the candidates he endorsed. “This is your battle and your challenge. You have to respond to every injustice with your vote on February 8 and stay calm,” the post on X said.

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