Imran, Qureshi sentenced to 10 years in cipher case

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RAWALPINDI: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan and leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi have been sentenced to 10 years, each, in the cipher case.

The decision was announced by special court Judge Abul Hasnat Zulqarnain during the hearing held at the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. 

The special court had begun the cipher trial afresh last month at the Adiala district jail after Imran and Qureshi were indicted for a second time in the case on December 13.

The former premier and Qureshi, who is also behind bars, were first indicted in the case in October. Both had pleaded not guilty. The IHC had termed the government’s notification for a jail trial “erroneous” and scrap­ped the entire proceedings.

In December, the Supreme Court had approved the post-arrest bails of Imran and Qureshi. While Imran remained incarcerated in other cases, Qureshi’s expected release was also stalled as he was manhandled and re-arrested in a fresh May 9 case.

Days later, Justice Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb had restrained the special court from proceeding against the suspects — including Qureshi — till Jan 11, noting that there were “legal errors” in the case.

Last week, state defence counsels had been appointed due to the previously appointed ones who had agreed to conduct cross-examinations not appearing in the next two court hearings.

Imran had said the trial was nothing less than a “joke” because the prosecution and defence team both belonged to the government.

The special court has been established under the Official Secrets Act 2023. Judge Zulqarnain has been holding hearings of the case in Adiala Jail since it started last year. 

Both politicians had pleaded not guilty to their involvement in the offence related to the alleged misuse of diplomatic cable for political purposes.

Before announcing the verdict, Judge Zulqarnain, during the hearing, reminded the PTI leaders that their lawyers were not appearing in court and were given state lawyers.

The court also observed that Qureshi and Imran were given the questions under 342. However, Qureshi said that his lawyers are not present so how can they record their statement. 

The verdict comes a day after the hearing was adjourned when the proceedings were disrupted due to Imran and Qureshi’s ruckus in the courtroom.

Imran, Qureshi get state lawyers 

On Saturday, the judge had decided to appoint state counsel to represent the PTI leaders, as the defence lawyers again failed to appear before the court.

According to the court decision, Malik Abdul Rehman and Hazrat Younus were asked to represent the PTI founding chairman and Qureshi, respectively as the state defence counsel and cross-examine the prosecution witnesses.

In November of last year, after Khan and Qureshi challenged their indictment in the case, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) declared their jail trial “null and void” while allowing their intra-court appeals in the case.

However, the federal cabinet yet again approved the summary of holding the jail trial of both politicians following which the trial continued.

Gohar asks PTI workers to remain calm

As soon as the verdict was announced, Khan’s successor Barrister Gohar Ali Khan urged party workers to remain calm and urged them not to take the law into their hands over the verdict.

“An effort is being made to shift our focus from the elections, everyone will be held accountable on February 8,” Gohar told journalists at the Islamabad High Court.

Talking about the case, Gohar said cases against the PTI chief are being conducted without taking into account the Constitution and law. He added that the judge hearing the case was asking questions on his own.

The PTI leader also hinted that they would appeal the verdict, saying that the party has faith in the IHC and Supreme Court. 

What is ciphergate?

The controversy first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Khan — less than a month before his ouster in April 2022 — while addressing a public rally waved a letter before the crowd, claiming that it was a cipher from a foreign nation that had conspired with his political rivals to have PTI government overthrown.

He did not reveal the contents of the letter nor did he mention the name of the nation it came from. But a few days later, he accused the United States of conspiring against him and alleged that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu had sought his removal.

The cipher was about former Pakistan ambassador to the US Majeed’s meeting with Lu.

The former prime minister, claiming that he was reading contents from the cipher, said that “all will be forgiven for Pakistan if Imran Khan is removed from power”.

Then on March 31, the National Security Committee (NSC) took up the matter and decided to issue a “strong demarche” to the US for its “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan”.

Later, after his removal, then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of the NSC, which came to the conclusion that it had found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cable.

In the two audio leaks that took the internet by storm and shocked the public after these events, the former prime minister, then-federal minister Asad Umar, and then-principle secretary Azam could allegedly be heard discussing the US cipher and how to use it to their advantage.