Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan granted bail, but release uncertain

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday granted former Prime Minister Imran Khan bail in a case related to a leak of state secrets, but it was not clear how he could be released while serving a three-year sentence for corruption and facing other charges.

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 remains disqualified from contesting national elections scheduled for Feb. 8 because of the corruption conviction, which a high court refused to suspend on Thursday. Khan nevertheless filed nomination papers for the elections on Friday, his party’s media team said.

In a written court order, the Supreme Court judges said they could not find “sufficient incriminating material” to show that Khan leaked state secrets intending to benefit a foreign power.

The order said Khan’s release on bail “during the period of elections would ensure ‘genuine elections’ and thus enable the people to exercise the right to express their will effectively and meaningfully. There are no exceptional circumstances to decline the concession of bail.”

But it was not clear how Khan could be released on bail because of the number of arrest warrants issued against him and the three-year sentence.

The state secrets charge is related to a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington last year, which Khan is accused of making public. He denies the charge, saying the contents appeared in the media from other sources.

Even if he were unable to contest the election, any release on bail would be a major shot in the arm for his party as it would enable him to lead its campaign in the lead-up to the polls.

Khan is widely believed to be the country’s most popular leader and won the last general elections in 2018.

He says he is being targeted by the powerful military, which wants to keep him out of the polls. The military denies the charge.

(Reporting by stringer in Islamabad and Ariba Shahid in Karachi; Writing by Shivam Patel; Editing by Jan Harvey and Nick Macfie)