The jail term is the second conviction for Khan in recent months. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: A Pakistan court sentenced Imran Khan to 10 years' jail on Tuesday for leaking state secrets, his party said, as the sentence against the former prime minister and cricketer in multiple cases comes just days before national elections.

The special court found Khan guilty of making public the contents of a secret cable sent by Pakistan's ambassador in Washington to the government in Islamabad, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said. Former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was also sentenced to 10 years in the same case.

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The jail term is the second conviction for Khan in recent months.

The court was due to issue its written verdict later.

The PTI said it would challenge the decision. "We don't accept this illegal decision," Khan's lawyer, Naeem Panjutha, posted on social media platform X.

Main criminal cases against Pakistan’s Imran Khan
SECRETS CASE: Khan is charged with making public a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in 2022. He denies the charge and has said the contents appeared in the media from other sources.
Khan has said the cable was proof of a conspiracy by the military and US government to topple his government in 2022 after he visited Moscow just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Washington and Pakistan’s military deny that.
GIFTS CASE: Khan was handed a three-year prison sentence in August for selling gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) in state possession and received during his 2018-2022 premiership.
The sentence was later suspended but Khan remains behind bars in connection with other cases. He has said that he legally purchased the items. Government officials have alleged Khan’s aides sold the gifts in Dubai.
A list of these gifts shared by a former information minister included perfumes, diamond jewellery, dinner sets and seven watches, six of them Rolexes - the most expensive being a “Master Graff limited edition” valued at 85 million rupees ($304,000).
LAND BRIBERY CASE: Khan was previously arrested for four days in May last year on charges that he and his wife received land as a bribe through the Al Qadir Trust - a charitable trust set up by Bushra Watto, Khan’s third wife, and Khan in 2018 when still in office.
Pakistani authorities have accused Khan and his wife of receiving the land, worth up to Rs7 billion ($25 million), from a property developer charged in Britain with money laundering.
Authorities accused Khan of getting the land in exchange for a favour to the property developer by using 190 million pounds repatriated by Britain in the money laundering probe to pay fines levied by a court against the developer.
Khan’s aides have previously said that the land was donated to the trust for charitable purposes. The real estate developer has also denied any wrongdoing.

Khan aide Zulfikar Bukhari told Reuters that the legal team was given no chance to represent him or cross examine witnesses, adding that the proceedings were carried out in jail.

Another of Khan's lawyers, Ali Zafar, told ARY television that given the circumstances of the trial and sentencing, the chances of the case being quashed on appeal was "100%".

Former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Image Credit: AFP

Bukhari called the conviction an attempt to weaken support for Khan. "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.

'Not harsh enough'

However, 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 contested in a higher court.

The party of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Khan's main political opponent, said the verdict was not harsh enough.

"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.

Multiple sentences

Analysts believe Sharif's party is the frontrunner to form the next government following the polls.

Pakistan's recovery from economic crisis depends on political stability. The election comes as Pakistan is navigating a tricky recovery path under a $3 billion International Monetary Fund bailout that helped the country narrowly avert a sovereign default last year.

Khan has been fighting dozens of cases since he was ousted from power in a parliamentary vote of no confidence in 2022.

Khan says the secret cable mentioned in the case was proof of a conspiracy by the Pakistani military and the US government to topple his government in 2022 after he visited Moscow, just before Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Washington and the Pakistan military deny the accusations.

The former prime minister has previously said the contents of the cable appeared in the media from other sources.

Khan's PTI, which won the 2018 elections, suffered a major setback earlier this month when a court upheld the Election Commission's decision to strip the party of its traditional election symbol, the cricket bat.

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

Khan's media team posted a message from the jailed leader on X in the moments that led up to the verdict.

"These people want to provoke you by giving me a harsh sentence in this case so that you go out on the streets and protest, then add unknown people to the crowd and then do another false flag operation," the post said.

In May last year, the first time Khan was arrested, his supporters were accused of rioting and ransacking military installations, including a high-ranking general's home. Khan denies his supporters were part of the mob.

He called on his supporters to make sure they came out in numbers to vote for candidates backed by him.

"This is your war and this is your test that you have to take revenge for every injustice by your vote on February 8 while remaining peaceful," the post added.