Pakistan court rejects appeals by Imran Khan, wife in illegal marriage case

A Pakistani court has rejected an appeal by former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife to suspend a ruling that their 2018 marriage violated Islamic law.

The decision by the court in Islamabad on Thursday means that Khan and his wife, Bushra Bibi, will remain behind bars.

The seven-year jail sentence, handed on February 3, was announced five days before the country’s general elections and followed two other convictions for Khan in separate cases. Both have since been overturned.

The marriage case against the couple was filed last year by Bibi’s former husband, Khawar Maneka, who alleged that his divorced wife did not observe the necessary three-month break required under Islamic law before marrying Khan.

Maneka claims he divorced his wife in November 2017. Khan announced his third marriage with Bibi in February 2018, months before he became the prime minister.

The couple filed multiple appeals against the conviction, seeking a suspension of the judgement.

Another appeal by Khan and Bibi to annul the February conviction is expected to be heard from July 2.

Sayed Zulfiqar Bukhari, a senior leader of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and close aide of the cricketer-turned-politician, described Thursday’s ruling as a “sad day for the judiciary”.

“The hatred of a few is adamant to destroy all institutions for it. Dismissing the appeal shows that there is nothing on Imran Khan and his wife except this outrageous case,” Bukhari told Al Jazeera.

“This case is disgusting at all levels. Is [this] what the current setup wants to be remembered for – keeping Imran Khan and his wife in jail in a fake marriage case,” he asked.

Omar Ayub Khan, another senior PTI leader and member of parliament, condemned the court’s decision and stated an appeal would be filed.

In a statement on Wednesday, the party had warned that a new political crisis would grip the country if Khan was not released.

“The former prime minister has been imprisoned for 11 months, while during this time he has been acquitted or granted bail in 18 different cases,” the PTI said in its statement.

Rana Sanaullah, a top leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) party, had recently alleged that Khan’s narrative was to sow chaos in the country.

Khan and his wife were previously handed a separate 14-year sentence in a case related to the illegal sale of state gifts, but in April their conviction was overturned by the Islamabad High Court.

Khan had also been sentenced to 10 years on charges of leaking state secrets, along with former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Earlier this month, the Islamabad High Court overturned that verdict, but Khan remained behind bars due to his conviction in the unlawful marriage case.

In May, the same court had granted Khan bail in a high-profile land deal case in which he was accused of colluding with Malik Riaz, a real estate tycoon. Khan has been accused of signing a deal with Riaz that caused the national exchequer a loss of more than $239m in a quid pro quo arrangement with the businessman to build an educational institute.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif last month alleged that “some judges” were favouring Khan.

“While many judges are patriotic, a few black sheep facilitated Imran Khan’s million corruption,” he said at a PMLN event.

Khan was in power from August 2018 till April 2022 before being removed through a vote of no confidence in parliament, which he blamed on a United States-led conspiracy that also involved Pakistan’s powerful military establishment – a charge denied by both.

The Pakistani military, which has directly ruled the country for more than three decades and has an overreaching influence in the political sphere, was also accused of orchestrating Khan’s rise to power.

Following his removal from office, Khan and his PTI have been facing a state crackdown which intensified after May 2023 when the former prime minister was briefly arrested.

His followers went on a rampage, protesting against his arrest and demanding his immediate release. Khan was released in less than 48 hours, but thousands of party workers and leaders were arrested, with more than 100 tried in draconian military courts.

The PTI continued to face difficulties as it was barred from using its electoral symbol – the cricket bat – in the February elections while Khan was declared ineligible to participate due to his imprisonment.

Still, PTI-backed candidates emerged as the largest bloc in the polls, winning 93 seats. But they remained in opposition as they decided against working with their political rivals.

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