Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan spent the night at a high-security prison after a local court handed him a three-year jail sentence over corruption allegations. The conviction bars Khan from politics for five years, threatening his political future.
The 70-year-old cricketer-turned-politician has been accused of illegally selling state gifts for profit worth 140 million Pakistani rupees ($497,500). Khan has denied wrongdoings, saying he legally bought the gifts from Toshakhana – a government-owned treasure house.
His lawyers say Khan was not given a fair trial and that the case is politically motivated.
The popular opposition leader, whose arrest in May sparked deadly protests, told Al Jazeera that the authorities are trying to crush his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – the biggest party in the country ahead of the polls.
“You cannot arrest an idea whose time has come. If you look at the poll surveys, PTI has approval rating of 70 percent. No party has had such popularity. So this is madness, what is going on,” Khan told Al Jazeera in an interview just before his arrest on Saturday.
Here is what you need to know about Imran Khan and what happens next:
Can Imran Khan appeal the conviction?
The PTI party said an appeal has been lodged in the higher courts against the decision.
Babar Awan, a member of the PTI and part of Khan’s legal team, said the ruling was a “ridiculous verdict by a sham court”.
“Imran Khan was not given a fair trial, which according to the country’s constitution is the right of every citizen,” Awan told Al Jazeera.
Khan was not present in court for the hearing. Pakistani law does not provide for the possibility of holding trials in absentia, under which he was charged.
Therefore, Awan said, there was “every likelihood of suspension of the verdict and early release of Imran Khan” following their appeal to the high court.
Can Khan still be involved in politics?
The arrest all but ends any hopes Khan may have of running in the upcoming general election.
Anyone convicted of a criminal offence is disqualified from contesting elections in Pakistan, and parliament is likely to be dissolved in the next two weeks, just before it completes its term.
A general election is due to be held by mid-November, but there is speculation the polls could be delayed following the release on Saturday of the country’s latest census results, which necessitates the redrawing of constituencies under Pakistani law.
If his appeal is unsuccessful, this ruling would only allow Khan to return to politics after five years. However, this case is one of nearly 150 that Khan is facing in the courts, which include charges of corruption and attempted murder.
Khan has alleged that the cases slapped on him are to prevent him from contesting elections.
Why is Imran Khan so popular?
Khan was seen as a new face among the established political figures and his promise to clean politics of corruption attracted young voters disillusioned with the old political order.
Khan became prime minister in 2018 on a wave of popular support, an anti-corruption manifesto, and the backing of the powerful military establishment.
At the same time, his embrace of conservative Islam and anti-Western rhetoric – particularly aimed at the United States – chimed with influential religious conservatives.
Khan’s philanthropy also won him plenty of plaudits. He founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, a cancer centre with locations in Lahore and Peshawar that provides free cancer care for the majority of patients.
During his tenure, Pakistan recorded some of the lowest COVID-19 rates in South Asia, and a poverty-alleviation programme helped alleviate the economic hardships brought by the pandemic.
Khan was removed from power in a no-confidence motion last April after his allies and some of the PTI MPs deserted. He maintained that his government was brought down by the powerful military. The army has denied the charges.
However, since then his popularity has soared after he blamed the vote on a US-backed conspiracy and he turned against the establishment – a euphemism for the military. His fiery, animated speeches drew thousands of supporters onto the streets.
His support was further strengthened after he was shot in the leg at a rally in November 2022. Khan would later accuse the military chief of being behind a plot to assassinate him. He has not provided any proof of his allegations.
When did Khan enter politics?
Khan entered politics in 1996, founding the PTI and shunning his playboy image. He emerged as a charismatic politician who eventually managed to topple the two established political dynasties that had dominated Pakistan for decades.
Khan moulded himself as a politician that could tackle longstanding corruption in the country and promised ambitious plans to strengthen the rule of law.
Before politics, Khan enjoyed an immensely successful cricket career in which he led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup.