Although Khan will not be on the ballot for the February election, he remains a potent political force because of his grassroots following and anti-establishment rhetoric. He says the legal cases against him were a plot to sideline him ahead of the vote.
Pakistan has seen violent demonstrations since after Khan’s May 2023 arrest. Authorities have cracked down on his supporters and party since then.
Pakistan’s independent human rights commission has said there is little chance of a free and fair parliamentary election next month because of “pre-poll rigging.” It also expressed concern about authorities rejecting the candidacies of Khan and senior figures from his party.
The Cipher case is one of more than 150 cases pending against Khan. Other charges range from contempt of court to terrorism and inciting violence.
In the secrets case, Khan is alleged to have waved a confidential document — a classified cable — at a rally after he was toppled. The document — dubbed Cipher — has not been made public by either the government or Khan’s lawyers but was apparently diplomatic correspondence between the Pakistani ambassador to Washington and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad.
During the speech, Khan claiming the document was proof he was being threatened and that his ouster was a U.S. conspiracy, allegedly executed by the military and the government in Pakistan. Washington and Pakistani officials have denied the claim.
Tuesday’s verdict comes weeks after Khan and Qureshi were indicted in the case.
During the trial, Khan’s party and supporters had feared he could be sentenced to death for treason. Khan has maintained his innocence and says he didn’t disclose the exact contents of the cable. Qureshi was accused of manipulating the contents of a diplomatic cable to gain political advantage.
Political analyst Syed Muhammad Ali said the latest verdict was expected. The two “indeed damaged Pakistan’s diplomatic ties with the United States, and they also embarrassed the then-Pakistani Ambassador Asad Majeed to the United States,” he said.