Imran, Qureshi’s indictment in cipher case deferred till tomorrow

Imran, Qureshi’s indictment in cipher case deferred till tomorrow

ISLAMABAD: A special court established under the Official Secrets Act on Tuesday deferred the indictment of former premier Imran Khan and ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the cipher case till tomorrow (December 13).

The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that the Federal Investigation Agency’s charge sheet alleges was never returned by Imran. The PTI has long held that the document contained a threat from the United States to oust Imran as prime minister.

Imran and Qureshi were initially indicted in the case on Oct 23. Both had pleaded not guilty. The trial was being held at Adiala Jail and four witnesses had alre­a­dy recorded their statements, with the fifth being cross-examined when an Islamabad High Court division bench termed the government’s notification for a jail trial “erroneous” and scrap­ped the entire proceedings.

As a result of the judgment, the special court started a fresh trial. Last month, Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqar­nain had ruled that the trial proceedings would continue at the Adiala Jail but in an open court.

During the previous hearing, the court had decided to indict the PTI leaders today. Meanwhile, PTI lawyer Senator Babar Awan had said Imran wanted an “ex-army general and a US envoy” to be summoned by the special court.

A day ago, the former premier challenged the process of his indictment in the cipher case in the IHC, urging it to halt the proceedings till deciding on this petition. He claimed that the proceedings of Dec 4 were “liable to set aside” as they were “carried out unauthorisedly and are illegal, unlawful, improper, incorrect”.

Today’s hearing was attended by family members of the PTI leaders. The FIA’s special prosecutors Shah Khawar and Zulfikar Abbas Naqvi were also present in the courtroom while Barrister Salman Safdar appeared as Imran’s counsel and Barrister Taimur Malik as Qureshi’s lawyer.

A few reporters were allowed inside the courtroom to witness the proceedings.

As the hearing began, PTI lawyers submitted six separate petitions in the court pertaining to incomplete documents in the case challan, media access and jail trial notification. They contended that a selected number of media persons were allowed to attend the hearing while a majority of journalists were waiting outside the Adiala Jail.

The judge remarked that the matter was an “administrative issue” and would be seen by the court. “We have given relief by going out of the way,” he added.

Meanwhile, Safdar argued that the proceedings were being conducted in a “hasty manner”, adding that the PTI had challenged two verdicts issued under the Official Secrets Act in the IHC.

However, the FIA prosecutor highlighted that the high court had not stopped the special court from conducting the proceedings. He also urged the court to complete the indictment process.

Here, Judge Zulqarnain said he would take all the decisions on the basis of merit, adding that he was hearing the case neutrally.

During the hearing, PTI lawyer Usman Gul also raised concerns related to incomplete documents in the case record, to which the judge asked why he had not pointed out the same previously.

The hearing was subsequently adjourned and the court declared Dec 13 as the date for the PTI leaders’ indictment.

The developments of the hearing were also confirmed by Barrister Taimur Malik in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

According to the FIR, a case under sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 r/w 34 PPC has been registered against the former premier and former foreign minister.

They have been accused of wrongful communication/ use of official secret information and illegal retention of cipher telegram (official secret document) with mala fide intention, whereas the role of the former PM’s aide Muhammad Azam Khan, former federal minister Asad Umar and other associates involved will be ascertained during the course of investigations.

It said Imran, Qureshi and their other associates are involved in the communication of information contained in secret classified document (cipher telegram received from Parep Washington dated March 7, 2022 to Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to the unauthorised persons (i.e. public at large) by twisting facts to achieve their ulterior motives and personal gains in a manner prejudicial to the interests of state security.

They held a “clandestine meeting” at Banigala on March 28, 2022 to conspire to misuse the contents of cipher in order to accomplish their “nefarious designs”, it alleged.

The accused, Imran, with mala fide directed the former principal secretary Azam Khan to prepare the minutes of said clandestine meeting by manipulating the contents of cipher message to use it for his vested interest at the cost of national safety.

Moreover, the numbered and accountable copy of cipher telegram sent to the PM Office was deliberately kept in his custody by the former PM with mala fide intention, and was never returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The said cipher telegram (official secret document classified as such) is still in the illegal possession/retention of the accused Imran.

The unauthorised retention and misuse of the cipher telegram by the accused persons compromised the entire cipher security system of the state and the secret communication method of Pakistani missions abroad.