Islamabad: A Pakistani court on Tuesday suspended former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent conviction on corruption charges, his lawyer Naeem Panjutha said, but it will not lead to his release as a judge has ordered his detention in another case.
The 70-year-old former cricket hero has been at the centre of political turmoil in the country since his ouster in a parliamentary vote of confidence in April 2022.
Khan was imprisoned on August 5 after being sentenced to three years jail for unlawfully selling state gifts during his tenure as prime minister from 2018 to 2022. As a result of the conviction, and with a national election expected in the coming months, Pakistan’s Election Commission also barred Khan from contesting elections for five years.
“The sentence has been suspended,” Panjutha said on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter, adding: “God be praised.”
Khan’s legal team had lodged an appeal on the grounds that he was convicted without being given the right to defend himself.
Shortly after the Islamabad High Court granted bail to Khan, another court asked the official in charge of the Attock prison to keep him there until at least Wednesday, when Khan is expected to face a hearing on charges of “exposing an official secret document” in an incident last year when he waved a confidential diplomatic letter at a rally, describing it as proof that he was threatened and claiming his ouster was a conspiracy.
The document, dubbed Cipher, has not been made public by the government but was apparently diplomatic correspondence between the Pakistani ambassador to Washington and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad.
When was he sentenced and why?
On August 5, a trial court in Islamabad convicted the Imran Khan in the case filed by the Election Commission of Pakistan that involved concealing details of state gifts and jailed him for three years. The verdict meant he was disqualified from contesting general elections for five years.
Imran had subsequently filed an appeal in the high court against his conviction. He had also approached the Supreme Court against the Islamabad High Court’s decision to remand the case back to the trial court judge who had convicted him.
Last week, however, the SC had acknowledged “procedural defects” in Imran’s conviction but had opted to wait for the Islamabad High Court decision on Imran’s plea. That was only one of more than 200 legal cases that have embroiled Pakistan’s most popular politician since he was ousted by a parliamentary vote last year.
Khan, a former cricket star, has also been previously denied bail in at least nine other cases, including three in anti-terrorism courts and six in the district courts in Islamabad.
Was he ever arrested before?
Khan was also briefly jailed on graft charges in May, sparking days of civil unrest
While Khan was imprisoned this month, Pakistan’s parliament was dissolved at the request of his successor Shehbaz Sharif to pave the way for a caretaker government that will usher in elections.
No date for the polls has been announced.
Khan surged to power in 2018 on a wave of popular support, an anti-corruption manifesto.
The court also ordered Khan’s release on bail, another one of his lawyers, Shoaib Shaheen, told reporters outside the court.
But he will not be freed as he has been detained in at least one other separate case on charges of leaking state secrets.
A special court in Islamabad has ordered prison authorities to keep Khan in judicial custody and present him before the court on Wednesday, according to an undated order seen by Reuters.
A Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) official, who requested anonymity, said Khan was charged with making public the contents of a confidential cable sent by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States and using it for political gain.
Khan’s top aide, former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has already been arrested in the same case.
‘Multitude of cases’
The suspension does not mean Khan’s graft conviction has been overturned, which is pending a detailed hearing in the court, according to constitutional lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii.
“(Khan) being left at liberty is now hindered by him being required by the police and relevant investigation agencies in the multitude of other cases instituted against him,” Jaferii said.
He said Khan would need to seek bail from the other courts hearing those cases.
Khan faces dozens of cases, including charges of abetment to murder and orchestrating violent protests that followed his initial arrest in May. He denies all the charges.
It is unclear how the ban on his contesting elections will be affected with the suspension of his sentence.
National elections are due later this year and a caretaker government was appointed this month, but voting is likely to be delayed several months.
The suspension marks another win for Khan and comes a day after the Balochistan High Court dismissed sedition charges against him, saying they had been improperly filed.
Khan’s political opponents say that the former prime minister will remain in custody.
“He has been on judicial remand for 15 days, which is expiring tomorrow, and he will be produced for extension of the remand tomorrow in a special court,” said Ataullah Tarar, a key aide to former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Khan’s camp called for him to be released following Tuesday’s suspension of his graft conviction.
“Arresting him in any other case will cause further damage to our national integrity and repute of judicial system,” Khan’s aide Zulfikar Bukhari posted on messaging platform X.
“Let the innocent be free!” he added.