Imran Khan: Former Pakistan PM and wife Bushra Bibi jailed for corruption

Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi sign surety bonds for bail in July 2023
Image caption,Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi, seen last July posting bail

Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi have been jailed for 14 years, the second sentence handed to Pakistan’s former prime minister in two days.

The couple were convicted of illegally profiting from state gifts – just a week before a general election in which he is barred from standing.

Khan, who was ousted as PM by his opponents in 2022, is already serving a three-year jail term for corruption.

He has said the numerous cases against him are politically motivated.

Wednesday’s court case revolved around accusations over state gifts that he and his wife received while in office, while Tuesday’s case – for which he was sentenced to 10 years – for leaking classified state documents. It is thought the two sentences will run concurrently, although that has not been confirmed.

The court has also ordered the couple to pay a fine of about 1.5 billion rupees (£4.2m; $5.3m).

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party also said that the sentencing further bans their leader from future political work: he will be disqualified for 10 years from holding public office.

Khan’s lawyers said they would be launching an appeal to Pakistan’s High Court in both cases.

The former premier and international cricket star has been detained since last August when he was arrested, serving time mostly at Adiala jail in Rawalpindi.

His wife Bushra Bibi, who had been out on remand, surrendered at the jail on Wednesday.

A government order late on Wednesday said she would be held under house arrest at her residence in Islamabad until further notice.

Bibi has typically kept a low profile during their period in office. The two married in 2018, months before Khan was elected prime minister.

In the so-called Toshakhana (state treasury) case, both had strongly denied the accusations brought against them by Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog that they had sold or kept state gifts received in office for personal profit. Such gifts included a jewellery set from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

A man reads Dawn newspaper at a news stand
Image caption,News of Tuesday’s sentence dominated Pakistan’s front pages on Wednesday

The PTI has described the cases against Khan as bogus, arguing the trials occurred under duress in “kangaroo courts”, where proceedings have been rushed. His lawyers have said he was not given a chance to defend himself, while reporters at the court said neither Khan nor Bibi – nor their legal team – were in the room when the sentences were handed down.

It said Wednesday’s case heralded “another sad day in our judicial system history”, alleging the judiciary was being “dismantled” and that the decision was akin to “a pre-determined process in play”. Pakistan’s judiciary maintains it is independent.

According to Dr Farzana Shaikh, an associate fellow at Chatham House’s Asia-Pacific programme, the timing of the sentences could be read as the establishment ensuring “there is absolutely no way Imran Khan can make it out in time for the election”.

“He has been in prison, but do remember the first of these sentences [was] imposed on him for corruption and a higher court actually suspended the sentence because it was seen to be full of holes,” she told the BBC.

But it could also be an attempt to demoralise his supporters.

“That of course is a big gamble,” Dr Shaikh added. “It could galvanise his base and bring his supporters out in force.”

Khan himself told his followers on Tuesday to “take revenge for every injustice with your vote on February 8 while remaining peaceful” in a statement released on his X (formerly Twitter) account.

Even before the latest sentences were handed down, many were already questioning the credibility of the election next Thursday given the extent to which Khan and his party have been sidelined.

The authorities deny carrying out a crackdown on PTI, but many of its leaders are now behind bars or have defected. Its candidates are standing as independents and many are on the run.

Thousands of the party’s supporters were rounded up after protests – at times violent – when Khan was taken into custody last May. The party has also been stripped of its cricket bat symbol, essential in a country with low literacy rates to allow voters to choose where to mark their ballots.

The man tipped to win is three-time former PM Nawaz Sharif, who returned from self-imposed exile in the autumn. He was a thorn in the side of the powerful military for much of his long career and was jailed for corruption ahead of the 2018 election that Imran Khan won.

Now many believe he is currently preferred by the Pakistan military establishment, while Khan – who used to be seen as close to the military – has fallen out of favour.

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