A special court, designated to try suspects under the Official Secrets Act, rejected on Thursday the bail pleas of former prime minister Imran Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the cipher case.
Earlier in the day, the same court confirmed the pre-arrest bail granted to former federal minister and PTI leader Asad Umar in the same case.
The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic cable which reportedly went missing from former prime minister Imran Khan’s possession. The PTI alleges that it contained a threat from the United States to oust Imran from power.
Imran and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi have been attending hearings in the case, while Umar and former principal secretary Azam Khan’s involvement will be determined in the course of the investigation.
Today, Imran’s lawyer Salman Safdar, Qureshi’s representatives Babar Awan, Ali Bukhari and Shoaib Shaheen and Asad Umar, through his counsel Awan, reached the Federal Judicial Complex in Islamabad to request bail for their respective clients.
Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain, who is also conducting the special court hearings, decided to take up the bail requests separately.
Shortly afterward, PTI’s legal affairs spokesperson lawyer Naeem Haider Panjhutha confirmed that Umar’s bail had been confirmed in a post on X.
“Asad Umar’s bail was confirmed on the prosecutor’s statement that there is no need for him, there is no material against him; the hearing on Imran Khan’s case continues,” he said.
Judge Zulqarnain reserved his decision on Imran and Qureshi’s pleas after the defence and prosecution completed their arguments.
Later in the afternoon, Panjhutha said on X that the post-arrest bail pleas were dismissed. “Unfortunate justice system,” he added.
On August 22, the same court headed by Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain had granted pre-arrest bail to Umar against a surety bond of Rs100,000.
Umar’s counsel Advocate Babar Awan had argued that the case was politically motivated and there was no evidence against his client. He had claimed that the FIA implicated his client in the cipher case to blackmail him, adding that Umar was willing to join the investigation as and when required.
Outside the court today, Umar briefly responded to reporters’ questions as he made his way to his vehicle.
A reporter asked him whether the document — the purported cipher — that then-PM Imran retrieved from his pocket in a public gathering in March 27, 2022 was the real thing.
“Only the [former] prime minister can tell you that,” Umar responded.
Another reporter mentioned that according to journalist Saleem Safi, the cipher is supposed to be yellow in colour, to which Umar replied saying: “He (Saleem) is a big journalist and would know better.”
When asked if he is about to become the PTI chief, Umar said: “There’s no chance of that.”
The cipher case
According to the FIR, a case has been registered against former prime minister Imran Khan and Qureshi under sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923, read with Section 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
They have been accused of wrongful communication/use of official secret information and illegal retention of a cipher telegram (an official secret document) with mala fide intention, whereas the roles of former SPM Muhammad Azam Khan, former federal minister Asad Umar, and other involved associates will be ascertained during the course of the investigations.
It said former PM Imran, former FM Qureshi and their other associates are involved in communication of information contained in secret classified document (cipher telegram received from Parep Washington dated March 7, 2022 to the 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 the cipher in order to accomplish their nefarious designs.
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 the cipher message to use it for his vested interest at the cost of national safety.
Moreover, the numbered and accountable copy of the cipher telegram sent to PM Office was deliberately kept 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 FIR claimed.