Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan, gestures as he speaks to the members of the media at his residence in Lahore, Pakistan May 18, 2023.
Mohsin Raza | Reuters
Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has been sentenced to 10 years in jail on charges of leaking state secrets, his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) confirmed in a post on social media site X on Tuesday.
The former national cricket captain became Pakistan’s prime minister in 2018. Now 71 years old, Khan was removed from office by political opponents in 2022, and later arrested in May of 2023 and has been serving a three-year jail term on a corruption conviction.
Khan and his supporters have decried the charges as politically motivated.
“There can be no more ridiculous case than the Cipher. What can be more ridiculous than that Pakistan has imprisoned its Prime Minister and Foreign Minister for exposing the foreign conspiracy!!,” PTI, which is Pakistan’s largest political party, wrote on X.
Cipher refers to the name of the case in which both Khan and former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi have been sentenced to a decade behind bars, and centers on secret diplomatic communications between Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. and Islamabad that were allegedly leaked while Khan was prime minister.
During a rally in March 2022, Khan brandished a document on stage that he said was evidence of a foreign conspiracy against him, and alleged that one particular country was adamant on seeing him removed from power. While not explicitly naming the U.S., he was later vocally critical of Washington.
One month later, he was removed from power in a vote of no-confidence by opposition lawmakers alleging corruption and unconstitutional actions. The charges were backed up by the country’s Supreme Court.
Khan’s opponents said at the time that the document was meaningless, but Khan was accused by the prosecution on Tuesday of leaking classified materials and harming diplomatic relations because of that incident.
Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan (R) addresses his supporters during an anti-government march towards capital Islamabad, demanding early elections, in Gujranwala on November 1, 2022.
Arif Ali | AFP | Getty Images
The former prime minister and his supporters said in 2022 that his ousting was a conspiracy planned by current Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the United States, the latter of which has a long and complicated relationship with the Pakistani government. Khan’s supporters say the tensions began when the former leader began openly criticizing Pakistan’s powerful army, and that Washington also wanted to see Khan, who has long been critical of the U.S., removed.
Sharif and the Biden administration deny the accusations.
Khan later made what appeared to be a U-turn on his accusations against the U.S., saying he wanted to mend his country’s relationship with the world’s premier superpower if reelected, though he is now barred from standing in the country’s General Elections on Feb. 8. Many political analysts had seen him as a likely favorite for the election.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s over, it’s behind me. The Pakistan I want to lead must have good relationships with everyone, especially the United States,” he said in a November 2022 interview.
But he still criticized Islamabad’s relationship with Washington, saying: “Our relationship with the U.S. has been as of a master-servant relationship … But for that I blame my own governments more than the U.S.”
Khan remains extremely popular across the country of 230 million. After his arrest in 2023, the PTI and supporters of Khan called for shutting down Pakistan, blocking roads and staging mass protests to demand his release.
Since then, however, numerous protesters and politicians have been arrested, hampering the public’s willingness to demonstrate.
“The message is clear,” one freelance writer in Islamabad, who requested anonymity due to fear of reprisal, told CNBC. “Back off or go to prison.”