By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Jailed former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was denied an open court trial on Tuesday, as ordered by a high court, after the government submitted reports citing threats to his life, his lawyer said.
The special court hearing the case later said Khan’s trial on the charge of leaking state secrets will be held in jail premises but will be open to media and the public, the lawyer, Naeem Panjutha, and a court order seen by Reuters said.
The trial in jail will begin afresh on Friday, the order said, adding, “Threat assessments, particularly in the present case, where one of the accused is a former prime minister can not be disregarded lightly by this court.”
It has been conducting the trial in prison since Khan was indicted on the charges last month.
The Islamabad High Court had ruled last week that holding Khan’s trial inside jail premises on security concerns was illegal, and ordered it restarted in an open court.
Khan has denied the charges against him.
Legal experts questioned the government’s move, saying a jail trial cannot be termed an open court.
“It is ridiculous,” constitutional lawyer Abid Saqi told Reuters, saying only a select group of people might be allowed to attend the jail proceedings. “It can’t be an open trial,” he said.
The 71-year-old former cricket star has been embroiled in a tangle of political and legal battles since he was ousted as prime minister in April 2022. He has not been seen in public since he was jailed for three years in August for unlawfully selling state gifts while in office from 2018 to 2022.
Khan had been appearing in courts prior to his August arrest protected by his personal security guards. But he has also sought exemptions from personal appearances, often citing threats to his safety, especially after he survived an assassination attempt late last year.
“Jail reports have been submitted citing that Imran Khan has life threats according to various intelligence and police reports,” Khan’s lawyer said in a post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
The latest charges against Khan relate to a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in the United States last year, which Khan is accused of making public.
The graft conviction has put a five-year bar on Khan contesting elections. He denies any wrongdoing and has said all the charges against him, including the graft case and the leak of the cable, were cooked up at the behest of the military to block him from the Feb. 8 general election.
The military has dismissed Khan’s allegations.
The election is shaping as a fight between Khan’s party and that of another ousted former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.
Both leaders had fallen out with the military, which has ruled directly or overseen civilian governments since Pakistan’s creation in 1947.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Editing by Kim Coghill, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Sharon Singleton)