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RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Imprisoned former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was charged Monday with leaking classified documents, a lawyer said.

Since being ousted from power last year, Khan has been embroiled in legal cases he says are designed to prevent him from contesting elections due in January 2024.

The populist politician was jailed for three years in August on corruption charges, but when his sentence was overturned, he was instead remanded in custody on the more serious charge of sharing government documents.

„He has been charged today and the charge has been read out,” Shah Qawar of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said outside the Adiala jail where Khan is being held.

According to the FIA’s report, the case relates to a cable that Khan said was evidence that Khan was ousted as part of a US conspiracy backed by the powerful military establishment.

The US and Pakistani military have denied the claim.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) vice-chairman and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi are also accused in the case.

A PTI spokesperson said the two were charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a trial „conducted inside the court premises without access to the public or the media”.

„We are going to challenge it,” Khan’s lawyer Omar Khan Niazi told reporters.

Khan’s lawyers say the charges against him carry up to 14 years in prison and, in the worst-case scenario, the death penalty.

Former cricket superstar Khan enjoys enormous support in Pakistan, but his campaign against the powerful military establishment that has spread across the country since his ouster has suffered a severe setback.

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Pakistan’s military has ruled the country directly for nearly half of its 76-year history, and continues to wield enormous power.

An anti-Khan crackdown resulted in thousands of his supporters being rounded up and almost the entire senior party leadership driven underground. Many later abandoned the PTI, condemning Khan’s misdeeds against the military.

„He is facing legal matters, but the regime’s intention is very clear – regardless of whether the charges are genuine or fabricated, they don’t want any corner for him to escape,” said political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Roys.

Pakistan is currently led by a caretaker government and elections have already been pushed back several months to January 2024.

Khan’s primary opponent, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, returned to Pakistan on Saturday after four years of self-imposed exile.

Sharif was jailed for corruption and barred from running in the 2018 election – which saw Khan come to power – but he defied court orders and left mid-sentence to seek medical treatment in the United Kingdom.

Ahead of his return, the court granted fresh security bail to Sharif, paving the way for him to visit his political hub Lahore over the weekend.

The fortunes of Pakistan’s leaders rise and fall on their relationship with the military and Pakistan’s courts, which are often used to bind lawmakers in lengthy proceedings.

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