Jailed Ex-Pakistani PM Imran Khan Addresses Virtual Election Rally Through AI Tool

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has over 100 cases against him and has been in jail for months. He has also been disqualified from contesting elections.

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan

Jailed former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday addressed a rare virtual rally through the usage of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. 

In what is being termed as the first-ever AI-generated rally, Khan reached out to his supporters amid widespread internet outages in Pakistan. 

Khan has been in jail since August when he was arrested after being convicted in the Toshakhana Corruption Case. In all, Khan has more than 100 cases against him, which he and his supporters say are politically motivated. 

In the AI-generated speech, Khan said that his "determination for real freedom is strong".

"My fellow Pakistanis, first, I would like to praise my social media team for this historic attempt. Perhaps you are wondering what my condition is in jail…My determination for real freedom is strong. Our party is not allowed to hold public rallies … Our people are being kidnapped and families are being harassed," Khan has been quoted as saying. 

VOA News reported that Khan's virtual rally attracted over 1.5 million views on YouTube and other platforms despite widespread internet outages in the country that say major social media platforms Facebook and Twitter going down. Khan's party Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) hailed the rally as a "virtual power show". 

Global internet monitor NetBlocks said that there was indeed an internet outage aimed at Khan's party PTI.

"Metrics show major social media platforms were restricted in Pakistan for ~7 hours on Sunday evening during an online political gathering; the incident is consistent with previous instances of internet censorship targeting opposition leader Imran Khan and his party PTI," said NetBlocks in a tweet. 

In his speech, Khan also spoke of the alleged excesses being committed on the members of his party.

"The party that has the support of 75% of the people is being kept out of the electoral process. PTI is not allowed to hold worker conventions or gatherings. Our people are being kidnapped, and their families are also being harassed," Khan has been quoted as saying. 

VOA News reported that Khan's AI-generated speech was produced after he approved the text from jail.

While supporters have hailed the AI speech as a major moment, there have also been cautious voices who have sounded alarm about the misuse of the technology. Well before Khan's speeches, AI tools like 'deepfakes' have been used to make videos of politicians and corporate leaders with false statements. To common people, it is hard to figure out that the video in front of them is AI-generated and not real. 

"What I fear is that PTI may just have opened a can of worms by promoting the use of generative AI in Pakistani politics...With little to no information literacy in the country, I feel the Pakistani population is very susceptible to falling for AI-based disinformation. Suppose another similar but fake AI-generated video of Imran Khan comes to light, but this time with an inciteful message, imagine the consequences," said Asad Baig, Executive Director of Media Matters for Democracy, to VOA News.

Khan and his party PTI have been under severe crackdown in Pakistan since the beginning of 2023. After being ousted in a trust vote last year, Khan went on a campaign to blame his ouster on a purported nexus between the United States and the political opposition in Pakistan. He also implicated the all-powerful Pakistani Army later on and he and his party also blamed the military for a suspected assassination attempt. On May 9, the PTI's protests peaked when Khan's supporters stormed residences of Pakistani commanders and the military headquarters. A swift and all-out crackdown followed that saw arrests of top PTI leaders and several leaders leaving the party. 

Pakistan is headed to polls on February 8. In his speech, Khan urged the voters to come out and vote in large numbers.