Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi have been handed a hefty punishment of 14 years in prison for their involvement in the illegal sale of state gifts. In addition to the prison sentence, both have been banned from contesting for any public office for a decade and fined a staggering 787 million rupees ($2.8 million) each.
These convictions come as no surprise, as Khan had already been behind bars since August and was facing trial for multiple cases. Just one day prior to this latest development, he was slapped with a 10-year prison term for leaking state secrets. The timing of these sentences is especially significant as it coincides with the general elections scheduled for February 8. It paints a rather bleak picture for Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), as the party has been stripped of its election symbol, the cricket bat. Consequently, all PTI candidates will now be running as independent candidates.
Unsurprisingly, the ruling has drawn criticism from various quarters. Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari, a PTI official, voiced his discontent with the decision and questioned its legitimacy, describing the current state of the judiciary as being dismantled. Political analyst Cyril Almeida suggests that the military, holding significant political influence in Pakistan, may have orchestrated these convictions to send a strong message to voters. Almeida believes that this is intended to dissuade people from voting for Khan, essentially ensuring that he remains far from positions of power.
The military’s involvement in politics is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan, as historically, three out of four military dictators have governed the country for nearly a decade each. Given the back-to-back convictions against Khan, concerns have been raised regarding the fairness of the trial. Some experts argue that there was no fair process in place.
Amidst these developments, the United States State Department has refused to comment on Khan’s sentencing, asserting that legal matters are strictly within the jurisdiction of the Pakistani courts. As the news unfolds, it remains to be seen how these convictions will impact the upcoming general elections and the future of Khan’s political career.