A federal court in Pakistan suspended former Prime Minister Imran Khan's corruption conviction and three-year jail sentence Tuesday, ordering his release on bail. But another court swiftly ordered him to be detained in a separate case.
The ruling by the high court in Islamabad in the graft case came in response to Khan's appeal against his conviction, arguing it was unlawful and breached his "fundamental right to due process and fair trial.” The eventual suspension order will remain effective until the appeal is heard seeking that the conviction be overturned.
The embattled 70-year-old politician was arrested and jailed earlier this month after being found guilty of selling state gifts in office and allegedly concealing their proceeds. Khan has denied any wrongdoing.
The conviction prompted the Pakistan Election Commission to immediately ban Khan from running for office for five years under relevant laws.
Tuesday's ruling also granted bail for Khan, but the former prime minister faces myriad other allegations, ranging from terrorism and sedition to corruption and murder.
Khan alleges that the country’s powerful military is behind all the legal challenges to prevent him and his political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, from participating in the next general elections.
The military denies the charges.
The cricket star-turned-popular politician has been in a political showdown with the military since a parliamentary vote of no-confidence toppled him and his coalition government last year.
Khan accuses the then-military leadership of plotting the vote in collusion with his political opponents and the United States, charges Washington and Islamabad denied.
In another case, the former prime minister is under investigation about an official diplomatic cable, known as a cipher, that prosecutors allege went missing from his possession while in office.
Khan has rejected the charges as baseless and “ridiculous." The judge hearing the case has ordered authorities to detain him and bring the ousted leader before him on Wednesday.
The court hearing will take place inside Attock prison, west of Islamabad, where Khan is currently detained. A late Tuesday official announcement cited “security concerns” for moving the trial to the century-old British colonial-era prison, notorious for its harsh conditions and housing convicted terrorists among its inmates.
“After suspension of @ImranKhanPTI sentence in the Toshakhana case, his arrest in any other fake & fraudulent case will be ill-intentioned & mala fide. Justice must prevail - and justice shall prevail,” Raoof Hasan, a central PTI spokesman, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Toshakhana is a repository where foreign dignitaries’ gifts to government officials are stored, but officials are legally allowed to retain gifts after paying a certain percentage of the price.
In recent months, a military-led crackdown has arrested thousands of PTI workers and leaders. Supporters carrying PTI flags or staging street protests against the crackdown are immediately apprehended by police, effectively making it a crime to show loyalty to Khan publicly, PTI leaders and commentators say.
The alleged missing cipher purportedly contained a threat from the United States to oust Khan from power over his neutrality in the Ukraine war. It documented an alleged conversation between U.S. State Department officials and Islamabad's then-ambassador to the U.S., Asad Majeed Khan.
Earlier this month, an American news outlet, The Intercept, published what it said was the cipher text for the first time, which Khan has long held up as evidence of his claim that Washington engineered his ouster in April last year.
According to the purported cipher, State Department officials encouraged the Pakistani ambassador to tell Pakistan's powerful military that if Khan were removed from office over his neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Islamabad could expect warmer relations with Washington.
Khan remains the most popular politician in Pakistan, according to opinion surveys.
The military has directly ruled Pakistan for nearly half its history by staging coups against elected governments.
Politicians and independent critics say the army leadership continues to influence political happenings in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation even when they are not in power and orchestrate the toppling of prime ministers or imprison them on controversial charges for falling out with the military.