January 31, 2024
ISLAMABAD – In yet another blow to Imran Khan and his party, the former premier and his wife Bushra Bibi on Wednesday were sentenced to 14 years in jail in the Toshakhana reference.
Last month, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had filed a fresh reference against the two in an accountability court for retaining a jewellery set received from Saudi crown prince against an undervalued assessment.
An Islamabad accountability court had indicted them both in the reference earlier this month. The anti-graft watchdog alleged in the reference that during his term as prime minister, Imran and his wife had received a total of 108 gifts from different heads of state and foreign dignitaries.
The verdict comes eight days before the February 8 general elections, which the PTI is contesting amid a state crackdown and without an electoral symbol.
Today’s conviction is Imran’s third. A day earlier, a special court established under the Official Secrets Act sentenced Imran and his foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to 10 years in prison for the breach of state secrets.
Previously, he was convicted in the Toshakhana case on Aug 5, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. The Islamabad High Court (IHC) had suspended his sentence, however, a division bench had later rejected Imran’s petition seeking the suspension of the conviction.
According to the verdict delivered today, Imran and Bushra were barred from holding any public office for 10 years and slapped with a fine of Rs787 million each. While the PTI founder was presented during the hearing, his wife did not appear before the court.
The judge had already closed the right of cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses and asked Imran and his spouse to record their statements under Section 342 (power to examine the accused) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
A day ago, after the cipher case proceedings, Bushra Bibi recorded her statement in the Toshakhana case, though Imran could not. During that hearing, Imran’s legal team had requested the court to restore the right of cross-examination but was turned down by Judge Bashir.
Today, accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir conducted the hearing at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail, where the former premier is incarcerated.
After his attendance was marked, the court asked him about his statement, to which the former premier replied: “My statement is in the [prison] room. I was only called for marking attendance.”
He was then told to submit his statement immediately and “not waste the court’s time”.
“Why are you in a hurry? Even yesterday, the conviction was announced in haste,” the ex-prime minister said, referring to the verdict in the cipher case.
Bushra Bibi arrives at Adiala Jail to surrender to arrest after she was sentenced in the Toshakhana reference. — Screengrab from video provided by author
“My lawyers are not here yet. I will submit the statement after showing it to them when they come,” Imran said, adding that he had appeared before the court only to mark his attendance.
He then exited the courtroom, after which the court sentenced the ex-premier and his wife in absentia.
Following the verdict’s announcement, Bushra arrived at Adiala Jail, where the NAB team was already present, to surrender to the court’s orders. She was subsequently taken into custody by the anti-graft watchdog.
PTI terms verdict ‘complete destruction of law’
Reacting to the development, the PTI said, “Complete destruction of every existing law in Pakistan in 2 days.”
The party said Imran and his spouse had faced “yet another kangaroo trial in which no right to defence was given to both”.
“Like cipher, this case has no basis to stand in any higher court. It’s shameful how a complete disregard and mockery of law is in place,” the party said.
Hamid Khan, a senior lawyer and PTI leader, said that two convictions in two days showed how all the law and procedures of fair trial were exploited.
“No legal requirements were fulfilled, […] the permission to present witnesses was not provided. The statements under Section 342 were not even recorded properly,” he said while speaking to Geo News.
Hamid said the party would appeal both the cipher and Toshakhana convictions in higher courts.
“Why does this system want to expose itself so badly? You’re not hurting Imran Khan. You’re hurting yourself,” said PTI’s Taimur Saleem Khan Jhagra.
‘Scales have been balanced’
Reacting to the verdict today, senior journalist Mazhar Abbas said that the timing of the conviction would be discussed in political circles. At the same time, he said he did not expect PTI workers or leaders to react to the conviction.
“The reaction to all of this would be important on February 8. Would they be demoralised and stay in their homes or would they come out politically charged?” he said while speaking to Geo News.
Commenting on the conduct of the PTI’s legal team, Abbas said that there appeared to be a “problem”. He highlighted how several PTI lawyers had come and go, but added that this could also be due to professional differences.
It should be noted that in a recent hearing, Imran had said his lawyers could not appear before the court as they were contesting the upcoming general elections.
Senior journalist Hamir Mir said that today’s verdict was not unexpected for “those in the know”. He said that it was expected for Imran to be convicted in several cases in the run-up to the general elections.
He stated that the “scales have been balanced” now that the same judge who had convicted PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif in 2018 had done the same to Imran. He said that PTI supporters knew that Imran would “ultimately” be convicted before February 8.
Political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi said that “such sentences in such cases” against former premiers had been the norm in Pakistani politics.
“We have seen this in the past that such cases were heard against former premiers and such sentences were given, and then after a while they were released in these cases only,” he said.