Timing of Former Pakistan PM's Convictions Is Noteworthy

Sentences come ahead of next week's parliamentary elections
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 31, 2024 8:34 AM CST
Prison Time Coming Fast and Furious for Former Pakistan PM
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan, right, with his wife Bushra Bibi, center, arrive to appear in a court in Lahore, Pakistan, on June 26, 2023.   (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary, File)

On Tuesday, former Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan was sentenced to 10 years in prison. On Wednesday, he was sentenced to another 14 years in a separate case and disqualified from holding any public office for a decade. The timing is noteworthy—not in that the sentences were handed out a day apart, but that they come just days before next Thursday's parliamentary elections. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, "says that the trials are being hurriedly concluded, with the aim of convincing his voters that there is no point in voting for Khan's party." More:

  • The convictions: Khan's first sentence this week was for disclosing state secrets. His second—wife Bushra Bibi was also convicted in this case—came in connection with corruption charges relating to him allegedly selling state gifts. He has denied the charges against him. Khan is already serving a three-year sentence on a corruption conviction. All three sentences will be served concurrently.

  • Khan's background: He began to challenge the country's military before being ousted from power in a no-confidence vote in April 2022. He now has more than 150 legal cases hanging over him, reports the AP. Still, the former cricket star remains intensely popular. Pakistan saw violent demonstrations after Khan's arrest last year.
  • A typical move on Pakistan's part: The country has a history of arresting former prime ministers or sidelining them ahead of elections if they are deemed to pose a challenge to the security establishment, which has long held significant sway in civilian politics. More than two-thirds of its civilian rulers have been arrested, convicted, or disqualified since the country gained independence from Britain in 1947.
  • But with an atypical element: Even given this history, analyst Azim Chaudhry says the rapid succession of Khan's convictions—three in about six months—was unusual. "The message is Imran Khan will remain behind bars for a longer time if he does not change his rhetoric against the country's institutions."
  • More on that: Khan's lawyer complained about the hastiness of the conviction and sentencing, saying the judge proceeded without Khan's legal team being present. The New York Times reports Khan echoed that, asking the judge, "Why are you in a hurry to announce the verdict? I have not even recorded my final statement." Khan left the court and the judge announced the sentence without him present.

  • Election predictions: With Khan fighting legal battles, his rival, three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, has a clear path to a fourth term in office. Sharif himself was hobbled by legal cases and prison sentences, but he "now appears to have been rehabilitated by the military," reports the Times. The Supreme Court and other courts have acquitted him on all charges and scrapped a lifetime ban on politicians with criminal convictions from contesting elections. Analysts expect Khan's PTI to struggle in the elections, with no one able to match Khan's charisma.
  • More on Khan's latest conviction: Khan and Bibi were indicted three weeks ago on charges they bought gifts, including jewelry and watches from Saudi Arabia's government, at reduced prices and sold them at market value. In Pakistan, government leaders are allowed to buy gifts received from foreign dignitaries and heads of state, but they aren't usually then sold. If they are, the earnings must be declared. The prosecution said Khan did not correctly disclose his income after selling gifts.
(More Imran Khan stories.)

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