Jailed Pakistan ex-PM Khan acquitted of leaking state secrets

Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan, seen in 2023, remains jailed on other charges (Arif ALI)
Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan, seen in 2023, remains jailed on other charges (Arif ALI)

A Pakistan high court on Monday overturned a treason conviction against jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, months after his party was sidelined in a general election.

The conviction was one of three slapped on Khan in the runup to February polls -- cases he claims were orchestrated to prevent his return to power.

The 71-year-old remains jailed on other charges that his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party are challenging.

The decision by a two-member bench at Islamabad High Court was announced by Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, an AFP court reporter witnessed.

"This is the first big case which was part of the political victimisation against Imran Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi which has been dashed to the ground," Salman Safdar, a lawyer for Khan's party, told AFP outside the court.

Khan was convicted along with Qureshi, his former foreign secretary, of making public a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan's ambassador in Washington in 2022.

He had touted the cypher as evidence that the United States had conspired to force him from power in 2022, when a no-confidence vote saw him replaced by the opposition.

The United States and Pakistan's military have denied the accusation.

Khan remains jailed on a seven-year sentence for breaking Islamic law by marrying his wife Bushra Bibi too soon after her divorce.

He has also been found guilty of graft over gifts he received in his time as premier between 2018 and 2022. While his 14-year sentence was suspended in April, the conviction still stands.

His faith healer wife Bibi was convicted on the same charges and is serving her sentence in the same prison.

- 'Limited comeback' -

Analysts regard Pakistan as a "hybrid regime", where the military establishment wields immense power to determine the course of ostensibly democratic politics.

Khan's first arrest in May last year sparked nationwide protests by supporters who directed unprecedented anger at the military -- which responded with a sweeping crackdown on PTI and its supporters.

Despite being severely hobbled during the election campaign, candidates loyal to PTI secured more seats than any other party in the February elections -- which were marred by allegations of vote tampering.

A broad coalition of parties considered more pliable to the influence of the military kept the MPs from power.

"In the court of the public he was already very popular and now it seems that in at least one institution, at the senior judiciary level, there is a realisation that they cannot be part of the undemocratic method of removing Imran Khan," political analyst and pollster Bilal Gilani told AFP.

Despite Khan's recent success in the courts, however, his political role hinges on his relationship with the military, Gilani added.

"If he continues his pace of current confrontation with the military, the chance of a comeback are limited."