Police detained Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the eastern city of Lahore after a court sentenced him to three years in prison for illegally selling state gifts.
The 70-year-old cricketer-turned-politician was accused of abusing his premiership from 2018 to 2022 by buying and selling goods in state custody valued more than 140 million Pakistani rupees ($497,500).
“His dishonesty has been established beyond doubt,” wrote judge Humayun Dilawar in his decision. “He was found guilty of corrupt practises by willfully and intentionally concealing the benefits he received from the national exchequer.”
The verdict includes a punishment of 100,000 rupees ($355), which if not paid, might result in another six months in jail.
According to Khan’s lawyer, Intezar Panjotha, police arrested Khan at his Lahore apartment. Following the announcement of the verdict, Pakistani media reported that police surrounded his residence.
“We are filing a petition against the decision in the high court,” Panjotha stated.
Khan called on his fans to come to the streets in protest in a video shot before his detention and broadcast on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
“I only have one plea for you, one appeal. You must not be silent in your houses. My struggle is not for myself; it is for my country, for you. “For the sake of your children’s future,” he urged.
“If you don’t stand up for your rights, you will live the lives of slaves, and slaves don’t have a life.”
Khan’s Second Arrest in Pakistan
Khan mentioned the “London Plan” in the post, which he used to refer to an alleged scheme to depose three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been in self-exile in London since 2019. He has yet to produce proof of its existence.
This is the second arrest of the popular opposition leader this year.
His arrest and detention for several days in May in connection with a different case caused considerable political upheaval. Supporters and police clashed fatally, and numerous military sites were targeted.
Following the events, Khan told Al Jazeera that he was not arrogant enough to believe the country would not survive without him.
“All I know is that my struggle [has] lasted 27 years, and the main gist of this struggle is that countries do not prosper without rule of law,” he stated.
“A civilized society is one in which everyone is equal before the law.” But, unfortunately, we have had the law of the jungle in Pakistan since its inception.” There were no reports of new protests in any of the major cities immediately following Saturday’s arrest.
Khan Accused of Selling State Gifts
According to Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, convention requires prime ministers to keep all gifts in the state’s safe house, but Khan is accused of selling them for a profit.
The reported items included watches, fragrances, diamond jewellery, and dining sets. Khan claims he bought the products legitimately.
Hyder further stated that hundreds of demonstrators who took to the streets in response to Khan’s prior detention on May 9 were facing serious charges, with some currently on trial in military courts.
“It will be interesting to see whether there is a strong reaction [this time],” he remarked. “So yet, only a few dozen of his admirers have gathered outside his home, yelling slogans. We are monitoring the situation, but we do not anticipate a big reaction at this time.”
Babar Awan, a member of Khan’s legal team and a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, called the finding a “ridiculous verdict by a sham court.”
“According to the country’s constitution, every citizen has the right to a fair trial,” Awan told Al Jazeera.
Khan did not attend the hearing in court. Pakistani law does not allow for the convening of trials in absentia, which is how he was prosecuted.
As a result, Awan stated that there was “every likelihood of suspension of the verdict and early release of Imran Khan” following their appeal to the Supreme Court.
Since he was dismissed from office in April last year after losing a no-confidence vote, more than 150 lawsuits have been filed against him.
He has denied any misconduct and has claimed that the charges are politically motivated. A conviction in the case might eliminate his hopes of running in national elections, which must be held by early November.
In a post on X, senior PTI leader Asad Umar also attacked the verdict.
“Today’s decision violates the fundamental principle of law and justice.” The Supreme Court will not uphold this decision. And real decisions about politicians are made in people’s hearts, not in courts,” he added.
According to lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii, while the case against Khan was reasonably strong in comparison to other pending accusations, the court’s technique was “farcical.”
The judge might have ordered Khan to appear in court or have police bring him in. If he had then failed to appear, the court would have felt justified in proceeding with the trial in his absence.
“What he absolutely should not have done was proceed with the ruling in his absence” and risk having it overturned, according to the lawyer.
Khan is challenging Pakistan’s generals
Khan has consistently stated that the army is attempting to keep him and his party out of the polls and prevent him from returning to power. The army denied the claim.
Benazir Shah, a political analyst based in Lahore, said Saturday’s decision “raises suspicions that the state is in a hurry to disqualify Khan and ensure that he does not participate in the upcoming general election.”
According to Shah, Pakistan has a history of removing elected prime leaders on considerably less serious accusations at the request of the country’s powerful military.
Cyril Almedia, a political commentator, said the arrest was “inevitable” since neither the administration nor the military establishment would risk having him free and able to campaign.
Even if Khan remains imprisoned, Shah believes he may still pose a threat to his opponents by supporting independent or lesser-known candidates.
“One thing is undeniably clear,” she added. “The military will not allow Khan to return to power, at least not in the upcoming elections.”