A few days before the elections, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, as well as Shah Mehmood Qureshi, former foreign minister and number two in the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party (Pakistan Movement for Justice, u PTI), were sentenced to ten years in prison for a case of disclosure of classified documents, his party and public media announced on Tuesday, January 30.

The judgment was delivered at Adiala Prison in Rawalpindi, where Imran Khan, who faces charges in dozens of cases and has been declared ineligible for five years, has been incarcerated almost since his arrest last August. .

This conviction comes less than ten days before the legislative and provincial elections of February 8, the campaign of which was marred by accusations of fraud and repression against the PTI, the party founded by Imran Khan.

At the heart of this affair: a diplomatic cable from Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, which Imran Khan presented as proof of an American plot against him, supported by the Pakistani military. The United States and the Pakistani army have denied this assertion.

« A mockery of justice »

Imran Khan was charged in October under the Official Secrets Act, which dates from the colonial era. The trial was held in Adiala prison, in the presence only of his lawyers, a few relatives and a few journalists. The PTI denounced “a travesty of justice, with no access for the press and public,” and announced its intention to appeal.

“It’s a travesty of justice. Apparently, this is intended to prevent him from having a majority in Parliament, but his popularity will rebound, because the number of his supporters will increase after this big injustice,” said Tauseef Ahmed Khan, rights defender and political analyst .

Former cricket star, Imran Khan, who came to power in 2018 and was removed by a motion of no confidence in April 2022, enjoys immense popular support in Pakistan. But his campaign of defiance against the powerful military establishment was followed by a severe backlash.

Violent protests after his arrest

His arrest last May provoked the ire of his supporters, who sparked violent demonstrations. The authorities responded by massively arresting party supporters and leaders. The PTI found itself paralyzed in the run-up to the vote: its rallies were effectively banned, the party symbol was banned, and dozens of its candidates were not allowed to run.

Imran Khan accuses the army – which helped him come to power in 2018 but whose support he has since lost, according to analysts – of seeking to prevent him from regaining leadership of the country.

The Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was head of government three times without ever completing any of his mandates, is the favorite in the elections.

Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan in October after four years of exile in London. Some political analysts believe that he made a deal with the military, whom he recently accused of having ousted him from power in 2017 to promote Imran Khan’s electoral victory a year later. The military has been in power for nearly half of the country’s 75-year history and continues to wield considerable political influence.