Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan and wife jailed for seven years over ‘illegal’ marriage

Khan has in recent days been sentenced for leaking state secrets and illegally selling state gifts

Alexander Butler
Saturday 03 February 2024 19:27 GMT
Imran Khan: Former PM's party expect conviction to be overturned at supreme court

Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan and his wife have been sentenced to seven years in prison after a court ruled their 2018 marriage was illegal.

It is the third ruling against Khan this week and comes ahead of national elections on Thursday which he is barred from contesting.

Khan, 71, has in recent days been sentenced to 10 years for leaking state secrets and 14 years along with his wife, Bushra Khan, for illegally selling state gifts.

His representatives say he will launch appeals in all three cases. It was not immediately clear if his various sentences would run concurrently.

Khan is in prison in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, while his wife will serve her sentence at their hilltop mansion in nearby Islamabad. He already faces a 10-year disqualification from holding public office.

Imran Khan and wife Bushra Bibi speak to the media in Lahore last July (AP)

“After hours of rushed hearings at court, no cross-examination of witnesses, and no due process – a mockery of the law,” Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said in a statement on Saturday.

“With the way these trials are being conducted, there will be a huge question mark on the February 8th elections. This is a test case for Pakistan’s higher judiciary.”

The couple were also each fined 500,000 rupees (£4,700).

Bibi was accused of not completing the waiting period mandated by Islam, called “Iddat”, after divorcing her previous husband and marrying Khan. The Khans signed their marriage contract, or “Nikkah”, in January 2018 in a secret ceremony seven months before the former cricket superstar became prime minister for the first time.

There was controversy over whether they had wed before the period was complete. After initial denials of the marriage, PTI confirmed it weeks later.

The Khans both denied wrongdoing.

Imran Khan on election day in 2018 (Reuters)

“Can say I’m a witness in the Nikkah and it’s a categorically yet another fake case,” Khan’s media adviser Zulfi Bukhari said. “From witnesses to the evidence to the procedure.”

Bibi’s ex-husband, Khawar Maneka, to whom she was married for almost 30 years, brought a criminal complaint against the Khans, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

Khan has often called Bushra his spiritual leader. She is known for her devotion to Sufism, a mystical form of Islam. Born Bushra Riaz Watto, she changed her name to Khan after her marriage. Her husband and followers commonly refer to her as Bushra Bibi or Bushra Begum, titles that denote respect in Urdu.

It was not clear when or how Khan met Bibi, but former aide Aun Chaudhry said Khan was impressed with her spirituality.

Khan, who had acquired a playboy image in the 1990s as his cricket career soared, has said he is keenly interested in Sufism.

Khan’s two previous marriages – to Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of tycoon James Goldsmith, and television journalist Reham Nayyar Khan – ended in divorce.

Khan has been fighting dozens of cases since he was ousted from power in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in 2022. He says his removal was backed by the powerful military with whom he fell out while in office.

He and his party say they have been subjected to a military-backed crackdown, including arrests of hundreds of supporters, party members and key aides. The military, which has for decades held sway over Pakistani politics, denies the claims.

NAB, the anti-graft agency that put Khan on trial, has at various times investigated, tried and jailed all prime ministers to have served since 2008, including Nawaz Sharif, whose party is considered the frontrunner in next week’s election.

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