ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday validated Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s indictment in the cipher case, but instructed the special court judge to ensure fair trial of the former prime minister and party Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq issued the direction while disposing of Mr Khan’s petition against his indictment.

Justice Farooq observed that under Article 10-A of the constitution, certain rights, including the right of fair trial of the accused, are required to be protected and ensured.

The CJ was not convinced with the argument presented by Mr Khan’s counsel, Barrister Salman Safdar, that the trial court had completed the process of indictment in haste.

Special Court told to ensure fair trial; decision reserved on ex-PM’s bail plea likely today

Barrister Safdar, while arguing that the trial court had indicted Mr Khan in haste, also stated that the court had not even shared the relevant documents with the defence counsel.

The former prime minister and ex-foreign minister Qureshi have been accused of violating Sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act for disclosing the contents of the classified diplomatic cable and misplacing the document.

The lawyer had on Wednesday argued that the trial judge had committed gross illegality by framing the charge in absence of the main documentary evidence around which the entire prosecution case revolves as per the FIR.

The remand application, challan and the whole “prosecution case allegedly rela­tes to unauthorised use of cipher telegram after twisting facts which are prejudicial to national security,” he added.

He had also objected that cipher was neither made part of challan nor included in documents provided to the suspects.

He said that after distribution of the challan, the charges were framed in six days, but that too was done without adding the cipher to the evidence.

“When the main evidence does not exist then there is no justification for the trial court to frame charge and instead [trial court] should have… honourably acquitted the petitioner and others in [the] baseless case,” Mr Khan had said in his petition, adding “in the absence of this crucial evidence the trial simply cannot proceed further”.

Decision on bail

The IHC will announce the decision on Mr Khan’s petitions seeking post-arrest bail and quashment of the cipher case on Friday (today). Chief Justice Farooq will announce the decision, according to the court’s roster.

The court reserved the verdict on Oct 16 after the prosecution and Mr Khan’s lawyers had concluded their arguments on the two petitions.

During the course of arguments, the counsel for Mr Khan had said that an FIR could not be registered agai­nst his client since the federal cabinet headed by then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif had already declassified the cipher.

He claimed that Mr Khan enjoyed immunity as provided in Article 248 of the Constitution that protects the president, governor, prime minister, federal minister, minister of state, chief minister and provincial minister for their “act done or purported to be done”.

According to Article 248(1), the officials mentioned above “shall not be answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and performance of functions of their respective offices or for any act done or purported to be done in the exercise of those powers and performance of those functions”.

On the other hand, FIA’s Special Prosecutor Raja Rizwan Abbasi had argued that the FIR could not be quashed as Mr Khan had admitted the alleged crime and never denied the allegations of sharing sensitive information with unauthorised persons.

The cipher was entrusted to him in confidence by virtue of his office, and the former PM “wrongfully communicated the contents for vested interest”.

The prosecutor went on to say that Pakistan’s then-ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed, had sent a cipher, and the foreign affairs secretary had declared it classified.

In response to arguments presented by the defence counsel that the cabinet had already declassified the document, the prosecutor informed the court that “there is nothing on record” about the declassification of the secret document.

Only the authority which declared the document “classified” was autho­rised to declassify it, he had argued.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2023

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