Pakistan indicts former PM Imran Khan for leaking state secrets

The former leader, removed in a no-confidence vote in April 2022, faces a potential jail sentence of 14 years.

Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan [File: KM Chaudary/AP Photo]

A Pakistani court has indicted Imran Khan for leaking state secrets, according to reports. The charge adds to the huge volume of legal turmoil that the former prime minister has met since his removal in April 2022.

“He has been indicted today and the charge was openly read out,” said Shah Khawar of the Federal Investigation Agency outside Adiala Jail in Islamabad, where Khan is imprisoned, Pakistani broadcaster Geo TV reported on Monday.

Khan’s former deputy, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has also been indicted in the state secrets case.

A spokesperson for Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) party said the men were charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a closed-door trial, adding the ruling would be “challenged”.

Khan, who led Pakistan from August 2018 to April 2022, is charged with leaking a diplomatic letter between Washington and Islamabad that he says points to the role of the United States in forcing him out of office. The US and Pakistan have denied the claim.

Khan, a former cricket star turned politician who has a large grassroots following in the South Asian state, was deposed by a no-confidence vote in parliament in April 2022 over accusations of economic mismanagement.

His downfall came after he fell out with the country’s powerful military establishment and tried to dissolve parliament, an act the country’s Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional. He has since faced a slew of criminal charges — in cases ranging from terrorism to contempt of court to blasphemy.

Despite his removal — and the criminal accusations — Khan has retained huge popular support. After he was briefly jailed in May 2023, his supporters took to the streets in nationwide protests that sometimes erupted into violence.

A supporter of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan throws stones towards police during a protest against Khan's arrest, in Peshawar
A supporter of Khan throws stones towards police during a protest against the PTI leader’s arrest, in Peshawar, May 10, 2023 [Fayaz Aziz/Reuters]

Pakistan’s military responded with a fierce crackdown, rounding up thousands of Khan’s supporters and forcing almost the entire PTI leadership underground. Many have since left the party.

In August, Khan was convicted of corruption and sentenced to three years in jail. While that charge was later suspended, he has remained behind bars pending the court ruling on his state secret charge. He is also barred from running in upcoming elections in January 2024.

Khan’s latest indictment for leaking confidential information carries a far more severe penalty of 14 years imprisonment, and in extreme cases, the death penalty, his lawyers say.

From jail, Khan has said he is “stronger than ever” and lashed out at his opponents who he says are seeking to push him out of the political scene for good.

“Do not give up,” Khan told his supporters in a statement earlier this month.” Keep raising your voice against this unelected predatory group and their facilitators at every forum and keep demanding a fair and transparent election in the country.”

On Saturday, Khan’s main political rival, three-time former premier Nawaz Sharif, returned to Pakistan, ending four years of self-imposed exile as he attempts a comeback bid in the January 2024 elections. While Sharif is also barred from participating in elections, analysts believe legal hurdles are likely being removed as part of a backroom deal between his party and the army.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies