Indictment of Imran, Qureshi in cipher case adjourned till next week

Published October 17, 2023
Barrister Salman Safdar speaks to other lawyers upon reaching the Adiala Jail before the cipher case hearing began on October 17. — Screengrab from video provided by author
Barrister Salman Safdar speaks to other lawyers upon reaching the Adiala Jail before the cipher case hearing began on October 17. — Screengrab from video provided by author

The special court on Tuesday adjourned the indictment of PTI Chairman Imran Khan and Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the cipher case till October 23.

The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that reportedly went missing from Imran’s possession. The PTI alleges that the document contained a threat from the United States to oust Imran from office.

The PTI chief was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison in the Toshakhana graft case on August 5, 2023. He was subsequently shifted to Attock jail, but the IHC later suspended his sentence. However, Imran remained in jail because he was on judicial remand in the cipher case.

On September 25, the IHC accepted Imran’s petition to be shifted to Adiala jail in Rawalpindi from Attock district jail.

On September 30, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) submitted a challan —a charge sheet — in the Special Court established under the Official Secrets Act, naming the former prime minister and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as the principal accused in the cipher case.

Imran has filed several petitions in the IHC, including two seeking to stay his jail trial and bail in the cipher case, another seeking to suspend the Toshakhana verdict, and one against his indictment in the cipher case.

Today, Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain began the in-camera hearing of the cipher case at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail.

State prosecutor Zulfikar Abbas Naqvi was present while the FIA’s team, along with the investigation officer, also appeared before the court. Barrister Salman Safdar and Khalid Yousuf Chaudhry were present as Imran’s counsels.

Qureshi’s wife and daughter, Mehreen and Mehr Bano, respectively, also reached the court. However, it was not confirmed whether they were allowed to attend the hearing or not.

As per the court’s orders of October 9, both PTI leaders had been expected to be indicted in the case today.

However, the indictment could not take place today with the court only distributing the copies of the challan (charge sheet) among the suspects.

Both, Imran and Qureshi, accepted the copies of the challan today and signed them. Subsequently, the court decided to adjourn the hearing and the indictment till October 23.

Speaking to the media after the hearing, lawyer Sher Afzal Marwat also confirmed that Imran and Qureshi will now be indicted during the next hearing.

He recalled that the PTI chief had not accepted the copies of the challan during the previous hearing so they were distributed today.

Marwat then said that the former premier and former foreign minister were “again today presented before the court in a cage”. He quoted Judge Zulqarnain as saying that the next hearing will take place “in a larger room”.

The lawyer went on to express the apprehension that Imran will be “sent to a military court” on the basis of “164 statements recorded of 22 persons who held a press conference regarding the May 9 incidents” — referring to those who have quit the party while condemning the May 9 violence.

Marwat further said that the PTI chairman’s message to the party workers was to “show patience”.

 Lawyer Shah Khawar speaks outside Adiala Jail on October 17. — Screengrab from video provided by author
Lawyer Shah Khawar speaks outside Adiala Jail on October 17. — Screengrab from video provided by author

Speaking to reporters before the hearing began, lawyer Shah Khawar had noted that the court had fixed today for indictment.

However, he had recalled that even at the previous hearing, Imran had refused to accept the indictment challans, adjourning the matter to today. He added, “Let’s see what the situation is right now.”

The FIR

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.

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.

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