Islamabad (Reuters) – A Pakistan court has banned media from reporting on proceedings in a closed-door trial of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan on charges of leaking state secrets, raising concerns about transparency ahead of national elections in February.
The 71-year-old former cricket star has been at the centre of a political crisis since his ouster from office in 2022. Khan won the last general election in 2018, a victory his opponents say he achieved with the help of the military, which often plays an outsized role in making and breaking Pakistan governments.
Khan blames his ouster on the military as well, after he fell out with generals over the appointment of the chief of the country’s main spy agency.
The military denies supporting or ousting Khan.
Banning coverage of the trial could taint the coming vote under a caretaker government, which the country’s election commission says is favouring Khan’s opponents.
The charges against Khan are related to a classified cable sent by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington last year. Khan is accused of making the cable public, which is punishable under the Official Secrets Act up to 10 years in prison.
The decision to hold a closed-door trial and the media ban on its proceedings came in the opening of the trial in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, according to a court order issued late on Thursday and reviewed by Reuters.
The court order, which was copied to Pakistan’s media regulator and telecom authorities, warned of “serious consequences” – also under the Official Secrets Act – in case of any violation of the ban on coverage.
The court has allowed the families of Khan and his co-accused former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to attend the trial on condition they not disclose the proceedings on any platform.
Human rights groups say such blanket restrictions on media coverage do not fulfil the requirements of a fair trial.
“The case is of public importance and declaring trial of a popular leader and ex-premier in-camera is depriving people their right to know,” said Mazhar Abbas, a Pakistani media activist, in a WhatsApp message to Reuters.
Khan has been in jail since he was convicted and sentenced to three years on corruption charges on Aug. 5.