Former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been handed a 10-year sentence in a case about leaking official secrets. This marks the harshest penalty against Khan, who has been in detention since August. The trial, held behind closed doors in the Rawalpindi prison where Khan is confined, has raised concerns over its legality and fairness.

The case revolves around a missing diplomatic cable that Khan had previously cited as evidence of a conspiracy against him in 2022. Khan denied taking the cable from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Still, the closed-door proceedings denied his legal team the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses or present a comprehensive defence.

Protests erupted from Khan’s lawyers, who argued that the closed-door nature of the trial was unconstitutional. The sentencing coincides with a broader crackdown on Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), ahead of the upcoming elections on February 8.

Khan described the trial as a joke and a sham, highlighting concerns such as government-appointed lawyers for both prosecution and defence. The denial of cross-examination and the refusal to allow senior army figures to testify. His legal team plans to challenge the verdict in the high court.

The sentencing follows a series of legal challenges for Khan since his ousting from power in April 2022. He has publicly accused Pakistan’s army generals of orchestrating his downfall.

In August, Khan received a three-year jail sentence in a separate corruption case, later suspended by a judge. Subsequent charges related to the missing diplomatic cable have kept him in detention, preventing him from participating in the upcoming elections. He claims the cases are attempts to sideline him politically.

Khan’s deputy, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, also pleaded not guilty in the same case and received a 10-year sentence under the Official Secrets Act. Both legal teams have expressed their intent to appeal the ruling.

The PTI party, facing government and military crackdowns, has seen thousands of members detained, harassed, and prevented from campaigning freely. The Election Commission has banned PTI from using its cricket bat symbol and rejected PTI candidates from running. Journalists and news channels have reportedly been instructed not to mention PTI in their election coverage.

Critics and analysts express concerns about the democratic legitimacy of the upcoming election, with Imran Khan’s imprisonment and the alleged pre-poll rigging casting a shadow over the process. The frontrunner in the election is believed to be three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who recently saw a lifetime ban from politics lifted by the courts, paving the way for a potential return to power for a fourth term. The military denies involvement in these events, emphasising its commitment to remaining apolitical.