A Pakistani appeals court on Tuesday suspended the corruption conviction and three-year prison term of Imran Khan in a legal victory for the hugely popular embattled former prime minister, his lawyers and court officials said.
Although he will face a retrial in due course, the ruling will enable Khan, 70, to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections. Khan has denied the charges, insisting he did not violate any rules.
The Islamabad High Court also granted bail for Khan, but his detention will continue at least until Wednesday because of his arrest in another case for allegedly revealing official secrets.
It was not immediately clear if he will be released at all, as Khan faces a multitude of other charges brought since his ouster through a no-confidence vote in the parliament in April 2022.
Khan lawyer Shoaib Shaheen said the Islamabad High Court issued a brief verbal order and a written ruling will be issued later. Khan was convicted and sentenced earlier this month by a court that found him guilty of concealing assets after selling state gifts he received while in office.
“Imran Khan is again entitled to lead his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party after today’s court order,” Babar Awan, another senior attorney for Khan, told reporters after the announcement of the decision.
Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Election Commission had disqualified Khan from running for office for five years. Under Pakistan’s laws, no convicted person is eligible to lead a party, run in elections, or hold public office.
Khan’s spokesman, Zulfiqar Bukhari, in a statement welcomed the court order, hoping the former premier would be freed from the Attock prison in the eastern Punjab province where he has been held since his arrest earlier this month.
He said the legal battle for Khan’s acquittal would continue. Bukhari said he is praying that now “no misadventure happens now and Imran Khan is not rearrested” as he leaves prison or on the way to his home in the eastern city of Lahore, the capital of Punjab.
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.
Since his ouster, Khan has said that his removal was a conspiracy by the United States, his successor Shehbaz Sharif, and the Pakistani military – accusations that they all deny. Sharif stepped down this month after the parliament’s term ended, and a caretaker prime minister is currently running the government until new elections are held.
Sharif took to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, to criticize Tuesday’s court ruling, saying everyone was expecting it. He said if “thieves and state terrorists are facilitated, then from where (will) the common man get justice in the country?”
Meanwhile, Pakistan is facing deepening economic and political turmoil.
Inflation was 13.4 percent when Sharif came to power in April 2022, but the country recorded a record monthly inflation rate of 37 percent in April 2023, indicating Sharif had failed to revive the economy. Currently, many Pakistanis are facing price hikes. They also received high energy bills this month, sending a wave of anger among people who say the bills have eaten up their entire salaries. Sharif’s government made the unpopular decision to cut energy subsidies as a necessary condition to receive a badly-needed IMF bailout package.
The upcoming vote has been complicated by an announcement by the election oversight body that elections must be delayed for at least three to four months because it needs more time to redraw constituencies to reflect the recently held census.
Under the constitution, a vote is to be held in October or November. Until then, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar is running the day-to-day affairs. Kakar has said that he will ensure the vote is held in a free, fair, and transparent manner.