In back-to-back blows, former prime minister Imran Khan has been sentenced—alongside ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi—to 10 years’ imprisonment by a special court in the cipher case and then to 14 years’ imprisonment—this time with his wife, Bushra Bibi—in the Toshakhana case by an accountability court. The latter also saw him disqualified from holding public office for 10 years. The first of these, the cipher case, pertains to a classified document that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s charge-sheet states Khan used for political gains and never returned to the Foreign Ministry while prime minister. The Toshakhana case, meanwhile, pertains to state gifts Khan and his wife retained after undervaluing them, according to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
While it is difficult to gauge the merits of the cases until the respective judges issue their detailed orders, it is patently clear the proceedings were conducted in a manner that raises questions over legal defects that could see the convictions set aside in higher courts. In the cipher case, the judge appointed state counsels for Khan and Qureshi after their lawyers failed to appear before him in several hearings, to both PTI leaders’ protest. In the Toshakhana case, Khan was not permitted to record his statement under Section 342 of the Pakistan Penal Code after he refused to cooperate until his lawyers deemed it fit to grace the court with their presence. Consequently, both cases have raised concerns over their “hasty” conduct, superseding any actual merits the cases might have had.
Not helping matters is the PTI’s reaction, which has alternated between describing the judgments as a “murder of justice” and a means of “victimization” to hurt the party’s prospects ahead of general elections next week. To the party’s credit, however, it has discouraged its supporters from protesting, urging them to exercise their right to vote to express their displeasure. Party leader Gohar Ali Khan has also assured supporters that Khan would soon be free once appeals are taken up in the high court. Unfortunately, the political divide in the country is such that the case can never be examined objectively—and the courts convicting Khan will always be regarded as biased by his followers. For justice to be delivered effectively, it must also been seen to be just; so long as Khan’s populism remains, this is impossible without it being viewed through a partisan lens.