Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking official state secrets

A special court in Pakistan on Tuesday sentenced former prime minister Imran Khan to 10 years in jail after finding him guilty of leaking state secrets, the latest blow to his career and political party ahead of closely-watched general elections next week.

A close aide to Mr Khan, former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, was also sentenced to 10 years in prison in the same case, with the verdict handed down by a special court at the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi where both men are being held.

The special court was established under the Official Secrets Act 2023 and hearings were held within the jail despite repeated petitions by Mr Khan’s PTI party to improve transparency.

Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari, a spokesperson for Mr Khan, called it a “sham case with no access to media or public”.

Mr Khan is expected to challenge the decision in a higher court, but the latest verdict represents the latest in a series of rulings against PTI and its senior officials ahead of the 8 February election. Mr Khan had already been banned from running for office himself after he was convicted in a corruption case, which he says was politically motivated.

The secrets case was filed in July last year after Mr Khan waved a document at a public gathering, calling it “proof” of a conspiracy by the Pakistani military and the US government to topple his government in 2022 after he visited Moscow just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Washington and the Pakistan military have rejected the claims.

The special court reportedly found Mr Khan guilty of making public the contents of a secret diplomatic cable sent by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington to the government in Islamabad.

The former PM said the contents of the cable had already appeared in the media from other sources. But Pakistan’s home ministry claimed Mr Khan’s “abuse” of a secret government document had harmed Pakistan's foreign relations.

The contents of the document have not been made public and government officials claimed that Mr Khan was still in possession of the document.

“We don’t accept this illegal decision,” Mr Khan’s lawyer Naeem Panjutha said.

Mr Khan was removed from the prime ministership in April 2022 in a no-confidence motion in parliament, two years before his term ended. No Pakistani PM has finished their complete term.

This is the second time Mr Khan has been convicted in recent months. He is currently sentenced to three years in a corruption case and slapped with more than 150 cases, ranging from several on charges of corruption, graft, terrorism and inciting violence after protests erupted in Pakistan last May where his followers took to the streets, damaging public and military property.

While he has been granted bail in many cases, Mr Khan has been forced to repeatedly appear in courts to seek protection from arrest, a common step under Pakistani law.

Owing to the corruption conviction he will not take part in the upcoming elections to elect a new government for Pakistan, and many of PTI’s best known figures have also been jailed, while the party has been banned from using its iconic cricket bat symbol on ballot papers.

Given PTI’s legal struggles, the election is being seen as a contest between two legacy parties – the Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.