Pakistan’s Imran Khan delivers AI-generated speech to campaign from prison

In the first event of its kind in the country, the jailed ex-PM’s party uses audio clip made by artificial intelligence during a virtual rally.

Islamabad, Pakistan – Jailed former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has delivered a speech using an audio clip generated through artificial intelligence (AI) to address a virtual rally – the first event of its kind in the South Asian country.

Khan delivered a four-minute address on Sunday night, using the clip, which was laid over a video containing his AI-generated image as well as photos from previous Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) rallies and earlier speeches by him.

The PTI said its virtual rally drew more than five million views on social media platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter despite internet outages reported from various parts of the country.

The PTI organised the internet rally to bypass a government ban on public rallies by the party as it gears up for general elections, scheduled on February 8.

“Our party is not allowed to hold public rallies. Our people are being kidnapped and their families are being harassed,” the AI-generated voice mimicking Khan said in the clip, carrying a disclaimer that the speech is based on his notes from prison.

“History will remember your sacrifices,” the stilted voice added, referring to the months-long state crackdown on PTI, which has seen dozens of party leaders arrested or “forced to quit” the organisation.

Khan himself has been in jail since August following his conviction in a case related to the illegal selling of state gifts he received as premier from 2018 to 2022. Though he got bail in that case, he remains in custody after he was indicted for allegedly leaking state secrets.

Khan denies the allegations and says the cases against him are a ploy by the government and the powerful military to keep him and his party out of the February elections.

‘Internet censorship’

The opposition party accused the government of causing internet disruptions in order to prevent Khan’s supporters from watching his online speech.

Several users reported outages in the live streaming of the speech, which was confirmed by NetBlocks, an internet tracking company.

“Metrics show major social media platforms were restricted in Pakistan for [nearly] 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,” the firm said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

 

In a statement on Monday, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority denied the internet outage and urged the media to exercise caution on sharing “unconfirmed news” about it.

Pakistan’s free speech activist Usama Khilji praised PTI’s “innovative” method of holding the virtual event to circumvent the ban on public rallies.

“With a full crackdown on PTI’s right to freedom of association and speech via arrests of leadership, the party’s use of artificial intelligence to broadcast a virtual speech in the words of its incarcerated chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan marks a new point in the use of technology in Pakistani politics,” he told Al Jazeera.

Khilji added a note of caution in political leaders and parties using AI tools for their campaigns.

“This innovative use of technology shows how AI can be used to circumvent a crackdown on a political party, but it should be viewed with caution because it signifies the potential abuse of AI technology to spread disinformation and manipulate elections as well by various political and non-political actors,” he said.


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