Imran was charged under the Official Secrets Act, a British era law, with a special court convened to hear his case, as well as that of Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a senior figure in Imran’s political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Qureshi also received a ten-year sentence.
The PTI’s official Twitter account issued a statement, calling the ruling “a sham trial and a complete mockery and disregard of law”.
Imran has consistently alleged that the no-confidence vote to remove him from power was undertaken at the behest of the United States of America, and that the document in question contained proof of American diplomatic pressure to get rid of him. This allegation gained further momentum when the US news organisation The Intercept published an article after purportedly gaining access to the classified document. The article said the US State Department threatened Pakistani isolation if Imran wasn’t removed, and that if he was indeed removed, “all would be forgiven”.
In Pakistan, public discussion of that classified document, known as a cypher, has led to the possibility of being charged with a violation of the Official Secrets Act. The charges of both Imran and Qureshi have had to do with discussing the contents of the document in public.
This latest flashpoint comes just nine days before Pakistan goes to the polls. Opinion polling in the lead-up to the elections has been non-existent, but the most recent independent polls have shown Imran to be the most popular politician in the country.
When he was arrested by paramilitary security forces in May 2023, violent uprisings took place throughout the country that led to an internet blackout that lasted several days; tens of thousands of his political supporters were also arrested. The party that Imran had led to power in the 2018 elections has been barred from contesting these elections, with Imran personally banned from running for any political office for five years.
Imran and Queshi’s lawyers said they would appeal this sentence in the High Court.