Pakistan’s jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan uses AI to give speech ahead of general election

FILE PHOTO: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks with Reuters during an interview, in Lahore, Pakistan March 17, 2023. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 17, 2023.Akhtar Soomro/Reuters/FILEIslamabad, PakistanCNN — 

Pakistan’s embattled former Prime Minister Imran Khan has delivered a rousing speech to his supporters from behind bars, using artificial intelligence (AI) to create a voice clone that has allowed the jailed politician to campaign for his party months ahead of an expected general election.

Khan has been locked up since August after he was found guilty of corruption. He is additionally accused of leaking classified documents, allegations the cricketer turned politician has repeatedly denied and says are intended to stop him from contesting nationwide polls expected in February.

The country’s media regulator banned television stations from broadcasting Khan’s speeches after his brief arrest in May sparked deadly riots, prompting the government to shut down the internet for three days.

Legal proceedings against Khan have taken place behind closed doors. There has been no image of Khan in jail or in court shared with the public since his arrest in August.

His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party held an online rally on Sunday that lasted about seven hours, during which it released a roughly four-minute clip that used AI technology to mimic Khan’s voice. The audio was overlayed with old footage and photographs of the country’s former leader.

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Former Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan leaves after appearing at the high court in Lahore on March 17, 2023.

From cricket icon to jailed politician: The turbulent times of Imran Khan

A caption on the video reads: “AI voice of Imran Khan based on his notes for Jalsa (a rally) from jail.”

“My fellow Pakistanis, first, I would like to praise my social media team for this historic attempt,” the AI voice said. “Perhaps you are wondering what my condition is in jail … My determination for real freedom is strong.”

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The voice added: “Our party is not allowed to hold public rallies … Our people are being kidnapped and families are being harassed.”

In the video, the AI voice mimicking Khan urged his supporters to vote in the upcoming general elections.

Khan swept to power in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform, a message that resonated with the country’s youth, who analysts say had become disenfranchised by the political dynasties and military establishments that have ruled Pakistan for much of its more than seven decades in existence.

Four years into his term, Khan was accused by opposition lawmakers of pushing the country to the brink of economic collapse. He was ousted from power in a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April 2022.

For months after, Khan drew tens of thousands to nationwide rallies protesting against his ouster. The demonstrations became a fixture in Pakistan’s volatile political scene and established the former cricket captain as one of the country’s most popular leaders ever, setting the stage for nearly a year of at times violent protests.

Khan’s Sunday virtual rally drew more than 1.4 million views on YouTube and was viewed live by tens of thousands on other social media platforms. NetBlocks, an internet watchdog that monitors cybersecurity, said social media platforms were restricted in Pakistan for about seven hours on Sunday during the PTI’s virtual rally.

The use of the AI audio recording is being seen as an example of how AI technology has been used by politicians who say they are battling state suppression.

While Khan remains behind bars and is no longer the leader of the PTI, he remains the face of the party.

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