Cameramen film outside the district prison Attock, where Pakistan s former Prime Minister Imran Khan in-prison after his conviction, in Attock, Pakistan, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. AP
The court ruled Saturday that national cricketing hero 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.
The prison sentence could bar him from politics under a law that prohibits people with a criminal conviction from holding or running for public office. He could also lose the chairmanship of the party he founded, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI.
Critics say efforts to put Khan behind bars are politically motivated and have intensified ahead of elections due to be held later this year.
They argue that Khan’s popularity and a 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.
It's the second time this year that Khan has been detained, joining other former Pakistani prime ministers who had been arrested and seen military interventions throughout the country's political history.
But his current residence at the Attock prison is a far cry from his custodial conditions in May when he was taken to a well-appointed guesthouse on a police compound in Islamabad under a Supreme Court order. He was then allowed visitors and meetings with party colleagues.
Attock prison, in eastern Punjab province, is notorious for its harsh conditions and its inmates include convicted militants.
Authorities have further tightened security around the prison, which already has armed guards in watchtowers, by erecting barriers and blocking roads to keep people away. They have also instructed locals not to allow media onto their roofs to stop photographs and videos from leaking.
One local, Muhammad Farooq Khattak, lamented the tough measures.
“Imran (Khan) is inside this prison,” he said. “They have closed the roads so that nobody kidnaps him. I am a retired army employee so I know the sensitivity of the matter. There is no logic to closing this road. It’s a big problem for us.”
PTI lawyer Shoaib Shaheen told The Associated Press that police at the prison refused entry to a legal team who went to see Khan. He said the party will file an appeal as there are “plenty of loopholes in the verdict."
In May, Khan's arrest on corruption charges caused a wave of violent protests that swept the country. Pakistan’s Supreme Court days later ordered his release, saying his arrest was illegal.