Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan was arrested at his home in Lahore on Saturday after a court in the capital found him guilty of graft and sentenced him to three years in jail.
The former international cricket star has long warned he would be arrested to prevent him from participating in elections that are due to be held before the end of the year.
Anyone convicted of a criminal offense is usually disqualified from contesting elections or holding office in Pakistan.
“His dishonesty has been established beyond doubt,” Judge Humayun Dilawar wrote in a ruling seen by AFP for a case centered on gifts he received and did not properly declare while he was premier.
“He has been found guilty of corrupt practices by hiding the benefits he accrued from national exchequer willfully and intentionally.”
In May, Khan was arrested and briefly detained in Islamabad for the same case, sparking deadly unrest during which supporters of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party poured onto the streets and clashed with police.
In the aftermath of his release following three days in custody, PTI has been targeted by a crackdown with thousands of arrests, reports of intimidation ,and muzzling of the press.
Images of Khan, or even mention of him by name, are prohibited from being broadcast on TV channels, but he remains wildly popular .and last month a debut video to his personal TikTok account racked up more than 135 million views and 4.5 million likes within 36 hours.
After he was taken away by police Saturday, a video statement Khan made before his arrest was posted to his X account with him calling for his supporters to protest.
“My fellow Pakistanis, they will have arrested me and I’ll be in jail by the time this message reaches you. I have just one request and appeal, that you are not to sit silently at home,” he said.
“This is a war for justice, for your rights, for your freedom… chains don’t just fall off, they have to be broken. You must continue peaceful protest until you get your rights.”
Khan Not In Court
Khan, 70, has faced a slew of court cases on charges he says are politically motivated since being ousted in a vote of no confidence last year, and was not present when he was sentenced Saturday.
The judge also fined him 100,000 rupees (around $350).
Soon after the ruling, police entered his home in Lahore and arrested him.
“A thief has been arrested today,” government spokeswoman Marriyum Aurangzeb told reporters.
“Any negotiations with the thief will be difficult now because he will be in jail.”
Party officials said Khan was being taken by road to jail in Rawalpindi, the much larger garrison city neighboring the capital, Islamabad — while his legal team said they were filing multiple appeals.
“This is a very regrettable decision that was made in haste. Justice was not provided to us and the right of defense was not given,” said Gohar Khan, a member of his legal team.
Khan’s jailing will do little to calm the economic and political unrest that has roiled the nation for the past 18 months.
Parliament is likely to be dissolved in the next two weeks before it completes its term, with national elections to be held by mid-November or earlier.
“Everyone will ask questions about the credibility of elections in the absence of PTI and Imran Khan and questions will be raised about the credibility of elections in the outside world as well,” political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.
Khan rose to power in 2018 on a wave of popular support, an anti-corruption manifesto, and the backing of the powerful military establishment.
When he was ousted in April last year, analysts said it was because he lost the backing of the top generals.
In multiple speeches and interviews Khan has highlighted the power the top brass wield behind the scenes — a subject historically considered a red line in Pakistan.
The case that has led to his arrest centers on gifts Khan and his wife received while in office.
Pakistan newspapers have for months carried lurid stories alleging Khan and his wife received lavish presents worth millions during trips abroad — including luxury watches, jewelry, designer handbags, and perfumes.
Government officials must declare all gifts but are allowed to keep those below a certain value or buy them at an officially agreed price.
A spokesman for PTI said the party would be led by vice chairman and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and PTI officials were meeting Saturday to plan their next move.
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