Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested Saturday after a court handed him a three-year jail sentence for corruption, a development that could end his future in politics.
The court ruled that Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022 but remains the country’s leading opposition figure, had concealed assets after selling state gifts. Police moved quickly to take the former cricket star from his home in the eastern city of Lahore to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, senior police officer Ali Nasir Rizvi said.
Efforts to put the divisive politician behind bars have stepped up ahead of general elections this year because his popularity and large support base, combined with his ability to mobilize massive crowds, pose a threat to the ruling coalition and its backers in Pakistan’s powerful military that has been the final arbiter of the country’s politics since independence from Britain in 1947.
This is the second time this year that Khan has been detained, joining other former Pakistani prime ministers who have been arrested and seen military interventions over the years. He has been slapped with more than 150 legal cases since his removal from office, including several on charges of corruption, terrorism and inciting people to violence over deadly protests after his arrest in May when his followers attacked government and military property across the country.
The prison sentence could bar Khan from politics ahead of this year’s elections under a law that says people with a criminal conviction cannot hold or run for public office. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, said it will challenge the decision.
Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb denied Khan’s arrest had anything to do with upcoming elections and said Khan had been given every opportunity to defend himself against the asset concealment charges.
“Instead Imran Khan used the time to delay the court proceedings and went back and forth to the high court and supreme court to halt this case,” she said.
Aurangzeb added that Khan has been “proven guilty of illegal practices, corruption, concealing assets and wrongly declaring wealth in tax returns.”
PTI spokesman Rauf Hasan described the asset concealment trial as the “worst in history and tantamount to the murder of justice.”
Khan’s party released a video message showing him at his Lahore home behind a desk with the Pakistani and PTI flags in the background. It wasn’t immediately clear when the recording was made.
He told his supporters that he would be in jail by the time the message reached them and that they should not stay quietly in their homes.
“I am not doing this for my freedom,” he said. “I am doing it for my nation, you, your children’s future. If you don’t stand up for your rights, you will live the life of slaves and slaves do not have a life.”
He urged people to peacefully protest until they get their rights, namely a government of their choice through voting and “not the one like today’s occupying power.”
In Lahore, a group of pro-Khan lawyers reached his Zaman Park home and chanted slogans protesting his conviction and arrest. In the same city, supporters of a rival political party handed out sweets to celebrate the detention.
His former political secretary, Aun Chaudhry, said Saturday’s events will aid political stability, while Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari described the day’s developments as comeuppance for Khan.
Khan was shifted Saturday evening to a high-security jail in Punjab’s Attock district that is notorious for its harsh conditions. Its inmate population includes convicted militants and militants awaiting trial.
Khan is the seventh former prime minister to be arrested in Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arrested and hanged in 1979. The current prime minister’s brother, Nawaz Sharif, who also served as prime minister, was arrested several times on corruption allegations.
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