Imran Khan could face jail term after losing court appeal against ban

Pakistan's former prime minister has been at loggerheads with government of Shehbaz Sharif

Policemen stand guard in Karachi during a protest by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf activists against the disqualification of former prime minister Imran Khan. AFP
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Imran Khan’s bid to overturn a ruling under which he is banned from running for office for five years has been rejected by a court in Pakistan.

The court has also threatened to press charges, which could result in a prison sentence for the former prime minister.

After being accused of hiding his assets, the Election Commission disqualified him as a politician last Thursday, a decision welcomed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who said Mr Khan had tarnished his image as the “idol of honesty and trustworthiness”.

The embattled cricketer-turned-politician has faced mounting legal challenges in recent months after being accused by authorities of trying to stir up dissent against the government.

Mr Khan alleges that Mr Sharif had gained power with the covert backing of the United States — which the US government has denied — and claims he was unlawfully removed in a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April.

Since then, he has led regular rallies as the chairman of his opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, some of which have turned violent, while calling for fresh elections. Pakistan’s Minister of Interior Rana Sanaullah Khan has charged Mr Khan with inciting violence, including terror-related charges.

The Chief Justice of Islamabad’s High Court Athar Minallah gave Mr Khan three days to refile his appeal and then seek suspension of the order, local media reported.

The judge, who wants Mr Khan to file the appeal with complete documents, said there was no need to immediately suspend the order as his disqualification covers the current tenure in parliament and it does not bar him from contesting in future polls, Geo Television channel said.

The commission has not yet publicly released its full decision since the ruling, causing confusion over the terms of the disqualification, Mr Khan’s party spokesman Fawad Chaudhry earlier said by phone.

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar had said Mr Khan would be disqualified from participating in elections for five years while the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf says the disqualification covers his current parliament seat.

The growing rift between Mr Khan and his many supporters who are railing against the government, adds to political uncertainty in a country reeling from dwindling foreign exchange reserves, widespread flooding and high inflation. But Mr Khan is pushing forward with plans to call for a protest march to Islamabad this week as he seeks to pressurise Mr Sharif into calling a snap election.

The five-member panel of the Election Commission has issued a short order that Mr Khan committed “corrupt practices” by not disclosing money he had earned from selling gifts from various foreign dignitaries.

Pakistani law does not bar politicians from selling such gifts but hiding these transactions is illegal.

The government may file a criminal case against Mr Khan for giving a false statement to the Election Commission, Mr Tarar said. A conviction in a criminal case carries a jail sentence and could bar Mr Khan from participating in politics or holding any public office.

Updated: October 24, 2022, 10:57 AM