Imran Khan, Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister and national cricket hero, was allowed a brief visit from his wife on Thursday at the high-security prison where he is being held. This visit comes as Pakistan is moving towards new parliamentary elections. The National Assembly was dissolved on Wednesday, and the current Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, is now expected to establish a caretaker government to oversee day-to-day affairs and lead the country until the election, which could take place in November.
Sharif’s ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League, is anticipated to face tough competition from Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). However, Khan himself is unable to participate unless his conviction is overturned. According to Pakistani laws, individuals with criminal convictions are prohibited from leading a party, running in elections, or holding public office.
The prison visit on Thursday marked the first time that Khan had seen his wife, Bushra Bibi, since he was convicted over the weekend and sentenced to three years in prison for concealing assets from the sale of state gifts he received while in power. Bibi, who comes from a deeply conservative family and works as a spiritual healer, is also facing charges in connection with a piece of land she allegedly accepted as a gift in exchange for providing benefits to a real estate tycoon during Khan’s tenure.
The visit lasted a little over half an hour, which is the typical duration granted to regular prisoners. Naeem Haider Panjutha, Khan’s lawyer, stated in a video message that high-profile prisoners usually receive longer visits with their families. Panjutha also highlighted the dire prison conditions Khan is experiencing, such as being held in a small cell without air conditioning and being denied home-cooked food and access to his longtime physician. The Attock prison in eastern Punjab province where Khan is incarcerated is infamous for its harsh conditions and houses convicted militants.
The prison department stated that Khan is allowed to watch television, read newspapers, and receive medical care from a prison doctor.
Khan was previously ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022 but remains highly popular. Since his ouster, he has faced around 150 legal cases and has asserted that his removal from power was a conspiracy orchestrated by Washington, Sharif, and the Pakistani military. All three entities have denied these accusations.
In another development, a court in Islamabad canceled the bail that Khan had been granted just a week prior in the real estate case where Bibi is also accused.
Although new elections must be held within 90 days after the dissolution of parliament, a delay until the spring is possible if Pakistan’s election commission chooses to undertake redistricting based on the results of a recent census.