A Pakistani court on Wednesday ordered that the jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter and son-in-law be released on bail as they appeal convictions on corruption charges, inching the family closer to restoring their status as political juggernauts in the country.
They had been convicted by an anticorruption court in July over luxury properties that the family owns in London, but a two-member bench of the Islamabad High Court suspended their sentences on Wednesday — a decision that may portend well for their appeal to overturn the verdict completely.
The conviction, by a lower court known as the liability court, upended Pakistani politics and assisted weaken Mr. Sharif and his political party just weeks ahead of July 25 elections, which his rival, Imran Khan, won. Mr. Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Maryam Nawaz to seven years, and her husband, Muhammad Safdar, to one year.
The Islamabad High Court’s ruling was seen by some as a stinging censure of Pakistan’s legal system and its lack of independence. By suspending the sentences, observers said, the court signaled that the victim utilized to convict the Sharifs was too weak to stand.
“These decisions are a judgment on the integrity of our justice system, and it will animate politics in Pakistan,” said Babar Sattar, a lawyer at Pakistan’s Supreme Court and a columnist.
Wednesday’s decision could restore Mr. Sharif’s political fortunes and pave the way for his daughter — generally perceived to be his political heir — to lead the family party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. The courts ruled earlier this year to bar Mr. Sharif and Maryam Nawaz from holding political office for life.
Mr. Sharif had been ousted from the prime minister’s office last year by the Supreme Court as it investigated revelations in the so-called Panama Papers that his family owned expensive properties in London and could not explain how he arrived to buy the apartments on a government salary. The Sharif family has denied wrongdoing and corruption, and has maintained that the cases were politically motivated, pushed by the military.
Many independent analysts and lawyers viewed the July convictions as flawed and weak, as the prosecutors could not establish a direct link between Mr. Sharif and the properties.
Mr. Sharif and his supporters have accused the military of influencing the courts to hurt his re-election chances. The former prime minister’s contentious relationship with the military started shortly after he took office in 2013. The military has ruled Pakistan through different coups for about half of the country’s history, and no prime minister has ever completed a full term.
“One of the massive criticisms surrounding Nawaz being ousted by the Supreme Court is that this wasn’t a fair trial with due procedure,” said Mr. Sattar, the lawyer. “Today’s judgment now brings up these questions again, about due procedure and the independence of these trials.”
The Islamabad High Court ordered that Mr. Sharif, his daughter Maryam and her husband each post a bond of half a million rupees, or about $4,000, for their release. The three were released from a high-security prison in Rawalpindi late Wednesday. They are still barred from leaving the country.
Mr. Sharif has tried to portray himself as a champion of civilian supremacy and a challenger to the military’s overarching influence in policy making. His first term as prime minister in the 1990s ended in a resignation under military pressure, and the second term was cut short by a military coup in 1999. Differences with powerful generals also falter his third term as prime minister.
But political opponents accuse Mr. Sharif of collect massive wealth during his terms as prime minister, and the accusations after the Panama Papers surfaced dented his reputation and political standing.
His conviction in July provided a major lift to his main political opponent, Mr. Khan, whose party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, won the general elections. Mr. Khan, who was universally seen as the military’s preferred choice to lead the country, was sworn in as prime minister last month.
On Wednesday afternoon, as jubilant supporters of Mr. Sharif chanted slogans in unification, officials of his political party reiterated claims that the convictions were a ploy to deny the party a level playing field.
“Even a blind man could see that these trials are nothing but revenge and pre-poll rigging, to keep Nawaz Sharif out and make way for the win of Imran Khan,” Ahsan Iqbal, a senior party leader, told reporters outside the Islamabad High Court.
The latest court ruling also comes at a time of grief for the Sharif family. Mr. Sharif’s wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, died last week in London after a protracted battle with cancer.
Mr. Khan is currently visiting Saudi Arabia, and officials from his party said they respected the High Court’s decision. However, the ruling is bound to add political pressure on Mr. Khan’s government.
The military denies any meddling in politics or the judiciary.