The case concerns whether the marriage had taken place during Bibi’s iddat period, a concept in Islam and Pakistani law that requires a woman to wait for a certain amount of time following a divorce or the death of her husband before remarrying. The case was especially controversial because of the extent to which it scrutinised the intensely personal nature of Imran and Bibi’s relationship, going so far as discussing Bibi’s menstrual cycles to determine whether the iddat period had not been breached.
While Imran and Bibi had married nearly six years ago, the case was registered by her former husband Khawar Fareed Maneka only in 2023, around the time Imran’s other legal troubles began to snowball. But in 2018, when Bibi and Maneka had separated, Maneka had released a video statement saying Imran was not the cause of his divorce.
This latest conviction is expected to run concurrently to Imran’s other three convictions, which carried sentences of three, ten and 14 years in jail, respectively. Therefore, it does not extend the amount of time he is legally required to be incarcerated. However, it shows the extent to which Imran’s relationship has deteriorated with the state, which has launched a thinly-veiled attack on him and his political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), ever since he was removed from power in a no-confidence vote in April 2022.
PTI issued a scathing statement after the sentence regarding Imran’s marriage to Bibi was passed.
“How many people have fallen to bring down one person? In this case, Imran Khan and his begum [Bibi] were not given the right to defend themselves, nor were witnesses allowed to present themselves. When this case goes to the higher courts, in a minute this decision will be rejected and thrown into the trash.”
Imran’s lawyer called the verdict “shameless and baseless”, and said the decision would be appealed.
Imran’s latest conviction comes five days before Pakistan goes to the polls in an election both he and PTI are barred from contesting. Political rallies organised by them have been dispersed and shut down by authorities. Earlier this week, a rally in Karachi was halted by police, who fired tear gas and detained dozens of PTI workers.
Earlier today, another PTI political rally in Swabi was dispersed, and for months, there was a de facto ban on even mentioning Imran’s name on Pakistani TV. In the past few months, when PTI attempted to host virtual or online fundraisers, there were nationwide internet blackouts that coincided with the timing of the events. Authorities, however, have claimed the two were unrelated.
The International Federation for Human Rights, in a statement after Imran’s other sentences this week, said its findings revealed “a disturbing disregard for the basic principles of justice and due process” after he was denied access to his chosen counsel, which they termed “a flagrant violation of rights enshrined in international law”.
Opinion polling in the lead-up to the elections has been non-existent, but the most recent independent polls have shown Imran to be the most popular politician in the country. When he was arrested by paramilitary security forces in May 2023, violent uprisings took place throughout the country that led to an internet blackout that lasted several days; thousands of his political supporters were also arrested at the time.
Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000