An Islamabad court on Saturday sentenced former prime minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi to seven years in jail each in a case related to their marriage during the latter’s Iddat period.

Senior civil judge Qudratullah announced the verdict on the complaint filed by Bushra’s former husband Khawar Fareed Maneka in a makeshift court at the Adiala district jail. The court also imposed Rs500,000 fines each on the couple.

According to the written order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the two were found guilty under Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) Section 496 (marriage ceremony fraudulently gone through without lawful marriage).

According to legal precedence, Section 496 is considered an offence completely distinct from zina, an offence that ensues from not having a contracted marriage.

The order further said that the two would be imprisoned for a further four months if they failed to pay the fines.

The verdict comes in the same week Imran and Bushra Bibi were sentenced to 14 years in the Toshakhana case. Imran and fellow PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi also received a 10-year sentence in the cipher case this week.

As per Pakistan’s superior courts, formalising nikah during iddat does not entail annulment of marriage as that requires a separate declaration; it will be treated as irregular but not void, in terms of legal fiction.

Imran and Bushra Bibi can appeal the verdict in the high court — something that the PTI says is already planning to do.

The charges against the couple were framed by Judge Qudratullah on a complaint filed in November by Bushra Bibi’s ex-husband Khawar Farid Maneka under PPC Sections 34 (common intention), 496 and 496-B (fornication).

However, the 496-B charge was dropped by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) later.

Days after Imran and Bushra had been indicted in the case, the IHC on January 19 had stopped the proceedings against the couple and restrained the prosecution from producing the evidence in the case.

On Wednesday, the IHC refused to quash proceedings in the case, saying the charge had already been framed by the trial court. It, however, gave the couple some relief by dropping the “illegitimate relations” charge of section 496-B of the PPC, which had not been framed by the trial court.

IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq had disposed of Bushra Bibi’s petition, observing that the “req­u­­ired procedure was not ado­pted” for invoking sec­tion 496-B.

On Thursday, the day both were convicted in the Toshakhana case, Imran vehemently denied rumours of an alleged deal resulting in the Banigala residence being declared a “sub-jail” for the former first lady.

Bushra had claimed the military establishment contacted her indirectly, but the initial dialogue was termed “futile”. She said she avoided further contact with them.

A day ago, judge Qudratullah reserved the verdict after recording the statements of the couple under Section 342 (power to examine the accused) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

During proceedings, the defence counsel had concluded the cross-examination of Maneka, Aun Chaudhry, who was a witness to the Nikkah ceremony; and Mufti Saeed, who solemnised the Nikkah. Imran’s counsel also cross-examined Maneka.

During the cross-examination of Mufti Saeed, the defence counsel had argued that the witness was part of the team of ‘Opera­tion Khalifa’, a coup attempt made in 1995.

The PTI founder had also confirmed backchannel contacts with the establishment but claimed that he had refused the offer. He once again dispelled the impression that his spouse was shifted to Banigala to serve a 14-year sentence under a deal.

In a message on his X account, Imran had said the case had been expedited as “they want to create a narrative against my dream of establishing Pakistan on the principles of Riasat-i Madinah”.

Will prefer death over striking a deal: Imran

Meanwhile, PTI chief Imran Khan said he has neither accepted nor would accept in future any deals with the powers that be, going as far as saying that he would “choose death over making a deal with anyone”.

In a brief chat with court reporters after the verdict, he said, “I have not made a deal, nor will I ever make one.”

Imran also said that the case against him was created to “humiliate and disgrace” both him and his spouse, Bushra Bibi.

“This marks the first instance in history where a case related to Iddat has been initiated,” he said.

Imran said it was also the first time that someone was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment in a Toshakhana case.

He said that his party’s top leadership was targeted right after the announcement of the election schedule.

“Now, election candidates are not even being allowed to run their campaigns,” he rued.

Will challenge verdict in high court: Barrister Gohar

Speaking to the media outside Adiala Jail, PTI leader Barrister Gohar Ali Khan confirmed that the party would challenge the Iddat case verdict in the high court, and expressed hope that justice would be delivered.

He said the Iddat case was “shameless and baseless”, adding that such cases were created to subject Imran to character assassination.

“We didn’t get the chance to produce evidence or show it during cross-examination. Our acquittal was dismissed within 10 minutes,” he said, noting that the judge delivered his verdict verbally and not through a written document.

He noted that this was the first time in Pakistan’s history that a political party’s intra-party elections had been challenged and its electoral symbol revoked.

He lamented the speed at which cases against PTI members were taking place, as well as the accused being given the maximum sentence in each case.

The case

According to Maneka, he was “happily married” to Bushra Bibi since 1989 “till the intrusion of” Imran Khan into their marital affair “under the garb of peeri mureedi”. He recalled that his sister-in-law, Maryam, who resides in the UAE, introduced Imran to them during the 2014 sit-in held by PTI in Islamabad.

Imran then started visiting his house in his absence, Maneka claimed, adding that he used to stay there for hours in his absence. “[This] conduct on his part was highly unethical, un-Islamic [as] he had no reason to stay,” he alleged, adding that the visits “became very frequent with the passage of time, and at one point, respondent No. 1 [Imran Khan] was ousted by me with disgrace”. He said his servant, Lateef, informed him about Imran’s frequent visits.

The petition said Imran’s close friend Zulfi Bukhari used to accompany him even though he was never Bushra Bibi’s disciple. On instances, Bukhari also came to Maneka’s house alone, he claimed.

The PTI founder and Bushra Bibi remained in contact with each other for which cell phones and SIMs were provided to the latter by her friend, Farah Khan aka Farhat Shahzadi, Maneka alleged. “I have reason to believe that they have developed illicit relations with each other even prior to their so-called nikah.”

He stated that harsh words were exchanged between the couple over his ex-wife’s conduct, but she “came up with a cover-up story of spiritualism”.

“I tried my best to reconcile the situation for the sake of my family,” Maneka stated, adding that contact between his ex-wife and Imran continued till Nov 14, 2017, when he “half-heartedly divorced” Bushra Bibi.

Maneka claimed that even after the divorce, he was interested in reconciliation through his mother, but “my plans of reconciliation were frustrated due to [their] premature nikah” allegedly solemnised without observing the iddat period.

A month after their divorce, Farah Khan contacted him and asked to change the date on the divorce papers, Maneka claimed, added that he “flatly refused” to do so.

He accused Imran Khan of ruining his life and stigmatising his entire family. He claimed that the former premier and Bushra Bibi “committed a heinous offence by having illicit relations with each other before marriage and contracting nikah during the iddat period”, which contravenes the teachings of Islam.

“I avoided reporting the matter because I was considering it my family matter … but now, things have gone public; that’s why I am before the court,” Maneka added.

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