Pakistan's Imran Khan acquitted of leaking state secrets charges, but to stay in jail

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan, gestures as he speaks to the members of the media at his residence in Lahore

By Asif Shahzad and Ariba Shahid

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -A high court in Pakistan overturned jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan's conviction on charges of leaking state secrets, his lawyer and his party said on Monday, but Khan will remain in prison for now due to a conviction in another case.

Khan, 71, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison by a lower court on charges of making public a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan's ambassador in Washington in 2022. He has been in jail since August last year.

He had challenged the conviction in Islamabad High Court, which said in an order on Monday that, an "instant appeal is allowed", adding Imran Khan was acquitted of the charges.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Khan's foreign minister during his tenure from 2018-2022, was also acquitted of the charges, in what is a major victory for the jailed leader.

"Thank God, the sentence is overturned," a spokesman for legal affairs from Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Naeem Panjutha, said in a post on the X social media platform shortly after the Islamabad High Court announced its decision.

Khan has said the classified cable was proof of a conspiracy by the Pakistan military and U.S. government to topple his government in 2022 after he visited Moscow just before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Washington and Pakistan's military deny that accusation.

The state secrets case was one of four in which Khan was convicted just ahead of Pakistan's national election in February. In two other of those cases the sentences have since been suspended while he appeals.

But despite Monday's acquittal, Khan, a former cricket star, will remain in prison serving a seven-year sentence over another case relating to his marriage to his third wife, Bushra Khan, also known as Bushra Bibi, which contravened Islamic traditions.

A ruling on the couple's appeal against the sentence was postponed last week and the proceedings transferred to another court after a judge recused himself following an accusation of bias made by Bibi's former husband, according to Khan's lawyers.

"We will celebrate this victory," another one of his lawyers, Ali Zafar, said in a TV interview, adding that the other cases faced by Khan would result in acquittals too.


"It's a huge political and legal victory," journalist and political analyst Mazhar Abbas told Reuters, but cautioned that it would be premature to say that Khan would be released anytime soon.

Khan is also named as an accused in several other cases, including charges of inciting violence against the state.

He has been at odds with the country's powerful military, accusing it of targeting him and his party. The military denies this and has called for Khan and his supporters to be tried for attacking state installations during violent protests against Khan's initial arrest last year.

Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, was banned from contesting the February election, but candidates backed by the jailed leader still won the most seats. They did not have the numbers to form a government, which was instead led by an alliance of his rivals led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The government, which says Khan broke clauses of the state secrets law by revealing contents of a secret diplomatic cable, said prosecutors were awaiting the detailed decision before deciding if they would appeal against the acquittal in the Supreme Court.

"It is a fact that a national security document was used for political purposes," government spokesman for legal issues Aqeel Malik said in a press conference after the decision, adding that the government would not compromise on national security.

(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; additional reporting by Islamabad Bureau; editing by Sudipto Ganguly, Bernadette Baum and Alex Richardson)