ISLAMABAD (AP) — A federal court in Pakistan’s capital on Thursday restored the right of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to appeal his 2018 convictions in two graft cases, officials said, less than a week after he returned home from four years of self-imposed exile in London.
The decision by the Islamabad High Court was a boost for Sharif ahead of parliamentary elections due in January.
If the court overturns his convictions in the coming weeks, Sharif would be eligible to run for a seat in parliament, and analysts say his Pakistan Muslim League party could also return to power.
Sharif stepped down as prime minister in 2017 over corruption charges.
In July 2018, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the anti-graft tribunal in a case involving the purchase of luxury apartments in London. In December of the same year, he was sentenced to a further seven years by a different court in a separate corruption case. His party called the verdict a “black stain” on the justice system.
Marriyum Aurangzeb, a senior leader from Sharif’s party, on Thursday hailed the court order. Writing on X, previously known as Twitter, she described the reinstatement of Sharif’s appeals against his conviction as “progress towards ending the injustice”.
She said when Sharif got justice, he would put the country back on the path of development and progress.
The latest development came days after the Islamabad High Court granted Sharif protection from arrest, enabling him to surrender before it. At Thursday’s court hearing, which Sharif attended, the court extended his protection from arrest after the anti-corruption body said it had no intention of detaining him in connection with pending cases.
Sharif was elected prime minister three times but could never complete his term.
In 2018, Sharif was replaced by cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan after the elections, which Sharif says were massively rigged. Khan’s government arrested Sharif in 2018, and a year later he complained of chest pains and was granted permission by Khan to travel to London for medical treatment following a court order.
Sharif says his medical conditions did not allow him to travel back to Pakistan.
Currently, Khan — Sharif’s successor and main political rival — is imprisoned on corruption charges and serving a three-year sentence. Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022 but he is still Pakistan’s leading opposition figure and enjoys a large following, along with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
Sharif has returned to lead the election campaign for his party ahead of the elections.
Like Khan, Sharif — at least for the time being — is not eligible to run for a seat in parliament. But Thursday’s court order has been seen by analysts as a step toward overturning his conviction, as the prosecutors Thursday did not oppose his appeals. The prosecutors said they did not want to arrest him.
“Most likely, the party of Nawaz Sharif will return to power,” said Azim Chaudhry, a senior analyst.