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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Jailed former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan was on Monday charged with leaking classified documents, a prosecutor said, a charge that carries a prison term of up to 14 years.
Since being ousted from power last year, Khan has been tangled in a slew of legal cases he says are designed to stop him from contesting upcoming elections in January 2024.
The populist politician was jailed in August for three years over graft but when his sentence was overturned, he was instead kept in custody on the far more serious charge of sharing state documents.
“He has been indicted today and the charge was openly read out,” Shah Khawar of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said outside Adiala Jail, where Khan is being held.
The case relates to a cable that Khan touted as proof that he was ousted as part of a US conspiracy backed by the powerful military establishment, according to a report by the FIA.
The United States and Pakistan’s military have denied the claim.
The vice-chairman of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a former foreign minister, has also been indicted over the case.
A PTI spokesman said both men were charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a trial “conducted within the court premises with no access to public or media.”
“We are going to challenge it,” Khan’s lawyer Umar Khan Niazi told reporters.
Khan’s lawyers say the crime he has been charged with carries a possible 14-year prison term, and in the most extreme circumstances, the death penalty.
Former cricketing superstar Khan enjoys enormous support in Pakistan, but his campaign of defiance against the powerful military establishment, which spread through the nation after his ouster, has met with a fierce backlash.
Pakistan’s military has directly ruled the country for roughly half of its 76-year history, and continues to exercise enormous power.
A sweeping anti-Khan crackdown saw thousands of his supporters rounded up and almost the entire senior party leadership forced underground. Many later abandoned the PTI, denouncing Khan’s tirades against the military.
“He is facing legal matters but the intent of the regime is quite clear — that they don’t want to leave any corner for his escape, regardless of whether the charges are real or fabricated,” political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais said.
Pakistan is currently led by an interim government, with polls already pushed back several months to January 2024.
Khan’s primary opponent, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, returned to Pakistan on Saturday, ending four years of self-imposed exile.
Sharif was jailed for graft and barred from contesting the 2018 elections — in which Khan swept to power — but he left mid-way through his sentence to receive medical care in the United Kingdom, ignoring court orders to return.
Prior to his coming back, a court granted Sharif a fresh protective bail to pave the way for him to arrive in his political heartland of Lahore on the weekend.
The fortunes of Pakistan’s leaders rise and fall on their relationship with the military and Pakistan’s courts are often used to tie up lawmakers in lengthy proceedings that rights monitors criticize for stifling dissent.
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