Pakistan court grants Imran Khan bail as corruption conviction suspended

Policemen escort Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan as he arrives at the high court in Islamabad on 12 May 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)
Policemen escort Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan as he arrives at the high court in Islamabad on 12 May 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)

A high court in Pakistan has suspended former prime minister Imran Khan’s conviction on corruption charges, which saw him arrested and sentenced to three years in jail earlier this month.

The court has also ordered Khan’s release on bail, his lawyers said.

It does not appear likely that the 70-year-old will be released from prison today, however, after a special court directed he be kept in judicial custody in relation to a separate case under the country’s Official Secrets Act.

An order said he would be produced before the Islamabad court on Wednesday 30 August.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader has been in prison since 5 August on charges of unlawfully selling state gifts during his tenure as prime minister from 2018 to 2022.

As a result of his conviction, the cricketer-turned-politician was also barred from contesting elections for the next five years. Pakistan is due to hold a general election in the coming months.

Khan had filed an appeal against the conviction.

“Our application has been accepted, and the sentence has been suspended,” his lawyer, Naeem Panjutha said on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Arresting him in any other case will cause further damage to our national integrity and repute of judicial system,” said Pakistani politician Sayed Bukhari. “Let the innocent be free!” he wrote on X.

There remains uncertainty over Khan’s release because he is facing scores of other charges brought since he was ousted from power, including terrorism and encouraging assaults on state institutions, after his supporters attacked military and government installations in May, as well as abetment to murder following the slaying of a Supreme Court lawyer in June.

In an order dated 15 August, an Islamabad judge directed the superintendent of Attock district jail to keep Khan in remand for two weeks and produce him before the court on 30 August. The order only came to light on Tuesday after Khan’s corruption conviction was suspended.

A Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that Khan is charged in that case with leaking the contents of a confidential cable sent by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, using it for political gain.

One of Khan’s top aides, former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has already been arrested in the same case.

Khan alleged that the cable proved his removal from office was at the behest of the United States, which he said pressed Pakistan’s military to topple his government because he had visited Russia shortly before its attack on Ukraine.

Both the United States and the Pakistani military have denied this.

On Monday, the Balochistan High Court quashed a sedition case against the former leader.

Prosecutors had failed to obtain the required consent from the federal or provincial government to lodge sedition charges, said the court in its order.

It is not immediately clear how Khan’s ban on contesting elections will be affected by Tuesday’s order.

Khan was ousted from power through a no-confidence vote in parliament last year. It came after he fell out with Pakistan’s influential military, which was widely viewed as backing him when he first came to power in 2018. Since his ouster, Khan has been wounded in an assassination attempt, but his continued attempts to rally popular support have stirred political turmoil in a country already struggling through one of its worst economic crises.