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Pakistan Court Convicts Ex-PM Khan, Wife of Unlawful Marriage

Pakistan Court Convicts Ex-PM Khan, Wife of Unlawful Marriage
Pakistan Court Convicts Ex-PM Khan, Wife of Unlawful Marriage

A court in Pakistan sentenced former prime minister Imran Khan and his wife to seven years in prison Saturday after finding them guilty of a marriage law violation in 2018.

The disputed ruling ahead of national elections on Thursday marked the third conviction against Khan this week and the fourth since he was removed from power through an opposition parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April 2022.

The judge announced the verdict after concluding a hearing inside a high-security prison near Islamabad, where Khan is incarcerated. The court also fined the 71-year-old former Pakistani leader and his wife, Bushra Bibi, $1,800 each.

The judgment read that the complainant “has been able to prove that the respondents have gone through an unlawful marriage ceremony …with dishonest and fraudulent intention.”

Bibi was accused of not completing the waiting period mandated by Islam, called “iddat,” after divorcing her previous husband and marrying Khan in 2018, months before he was elected prime minister. Her son from her previous marriage brought up the criminal complaint against her.

The former first lady rejected the charges as baseless and politically motivated to malign her husband.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, party rejected Saturday’s conviction as “ridiculous” and part of the ongoing political persecution of its leader.

“After hours of rushed hearings at court, no cross-examination of witnesses, and no due process — a mockery of the law,” the PTI said.

“With the way these trials are being conducted, there will be a huge question mark on the February 8 elections. This is a test case for Pakistan’s higher judiciary,” the statement said.

Legal experts and independent analysts denounced the ruling.

Reema Omer, a legal South Asia adviser at the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, called the judgment “shameful and a travesty of justice, human rights.”

“Horrifying the State stooped this low seemingly just to humiliate Imran Khan, Bushra Bibi,” she wrote on social media platform X.

The state in Pakistan refers to the powerful military that Khan alleges is behind scores of frivolous charges against him after orchestrating his ouster from power.

Omer said the marriage lawsuit “has cast a blow to women’s right to dignity and privacy, as well as their freedom to make decisions about divorce and marriage without fear of being dragged in court.”

Michael Kugelman, director at Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute, told VOA the convictions against Khan could further boost his party standing in the upcoming polls.

“There’s one thing that makes this latest sentence stand out from earlier ones: assuming the military pushed for this move, it could be a political ploy to anger religious constituencies and get them to turn on PTI during the polls,” Kugelman said in his written comments.

“These jail sentences, now coming in hot and heavy as the election draws closer, are meant to send a tough message to Khan and demoralize his base. In reality these moves will amplify the victimization narrative that Khan has long articulated and further galvanize his supporters,” Kugelman said.

Abdul Basit, an associate research fellow at the Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, cautioned that the “personalization of politics” would harm everyone in Pakistan in the future.

“Today’s verdict is a new low, even by Pakistani standards. It is mind-boggling to imagine that the state would stoop this low to humiliate Khan,” Basit wrote on X.

Earlier this week, Khan was sentenced to 10 years on charges of leaking state secrets while in office, and 14 years along with his wife for allegedly retaining and selling state gifts during his nearly four-year term in office.

Khan, a cricket hero-turned-politician, denied any wrongdoing. He accused the military of having dislodged him from power in collusion with the United States to punish him for pushing Pakistan to have a foreign policy free of American influence.

Officials in Washington and Islamabad rejected the charges.

The ousted prime minister was convicted of corruption and sentenced to a three-year jail term last August. Khan also has been disqualified from holding public office or contesting an election under election laws that bar convicts from standing.

His wife has been held in a room at his hilltop residence outside Islamabad to serve her sentence.

Analysts said Khan’s repeated recent sentencing and ongoing state crackdowns on his party workers and election candidates are all aimed at blocking his return to power.

Despite being seen as the most persecuted party, recent public opinion polls show that Khan remains Pakistan’s most popular politician, with his PTI rated as the most significant national political party.

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