IHC rejects Imran’s bail and dismissal pleas in cipher case

Published October 27, 2023
PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s sister, Aleema Khan, speaks outside the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on October 27. — Screengrab from video provided by author
PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s sister, Aleema Khan, speaks outside the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on October 27. — Screengrab from video provided by author

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday rejected former prime minister Imran Khan’s petition seeking post-arrest bail in the cipher case.

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

On Monday, both Imran and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi were indicted by a special court hearing the case. They have pleaded not guilty.

Imran had filed several petitions in the IHC — seeking to stay his jail trial, for bail in the cipher case, against his indictment in the cipher case, to suspend the Toshakhana verdict, and one seeking cancellation of the first information report in the cipher case.

On Oct 16, the IHC had reserved its verdict on the pleas seeking bail and quashing of the FIR while also disposing of the petition challenging the PTI chief’s jail trial.

A day ago, the IHC endorsed Imran’s indictment, disposing of his plea against the same, but also instructed the special court judge to ensure a “fair trial”.

Today, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq pronounced the reserved verdict, rejecting the former premier’s pleas seeking post-arrest bail and the quashing of the case.

The written verdict issued by the court, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, declared both petitions as “without merit” and were “accordingly dismissed”.

“It is clarified that any observations, made hereinabove, are tentative in nature and shall not prejudice learned trial court during the trial,” the judgement emphasised.

On the matter of the plea seeking dismissal of the case, it stated that the petitioner had the “efficacious and alternate remedy by way of moving an appropriate application” under section 249-A (power of magistrate to acquit accused at any stage) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

“Moreover, the petitioner is co-accused in the case and even if the arguments advanced for quashment of FIR on his behalf are accepted, FIR cannot be quashed in as much as there are other co-accused and there cannot be a partial quashing of FIR,” the verdict said referring to the fact that the FIR had named multiple people named.

Referring to a previous Supreme Court verdict, the IHC said it showed that “contents of cipher were such that they only called for demarche and not any further strict action, as there was no conspiracy of any kind”.

Addressing the arguments made in the pleas, the judgment said Imran, “when addressed the public gathering, was not doing so pursuant to the performance of his duties as prime minister, rather it was a political engagement”.

Noting that the punishment for the offence committed under section 5(1)(a) (wrongful communication, etc of information) of the Official Secrets Act was “death or imprisonment up to fourteen years”, the IHC said it attracted the prohibitory clause of section 497 (when bail may be taken in ease of non-boilable offence) of the CrPC and “there does not exist any ground for further inquiry”.

The IHC stated, “The case law cited by the petitioner for grant of bail in the facts and circumstances is not relevant in as much as undoubtedly the evidence is all documentary but according to the prosecution, the copy of cipher is still in custody of the petitioner and […] where allegations are serious and prima facie link the accused with the commission of the offence, bail is to be denied in case of Official Secrets Act, 1923.”

Last month, the special court had rejected Imran’s and PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s bail pleas in the cipher case.

On September 30, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had submitted a challan — a charge sheet — in a special court established under the Official Secrets Act naming PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Imran as the principal accused in the case.

According to the charge sheet, the PTI chief, while holding the office of the prime minister, used the cipher in a “prohibited place (jalsa)” and “willfully communicated” the secret information to unauthorised persons, which was against the “interest of the State of Pakistan”.

“The cipher was entrusted to you in confidence by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [but] you used the document while keeping it in your possession for the benefit of your personal political designs and compromised the cipher and the security system of Pakistan,” it read.

The charge sheet had further stated that Imran conspired to “misuse the contents of the cipher” at a meeting in his Bani Gala residence on March 28, 2022. It had added that Imran kept the cipher in his possession and never returned it to the foreign ministry.

The charge sheet had said that Qureshi “aided and abetted” Imran and therefore was liable for the act in the same manner.

Imran fears ‘another attempt’ on his life

Meanwhile, Imran has expressed apprehension that “they will try to make another attempt on my life while I am in jail”.

In a message posted on his X (formerly Twitter) account today, which was said to be shared with his family on Tuesday, the ex-premier said, “Since I won’t agree to leave my country, there is of course a danger they will try to make another attempt on my life while I am in jail.

“Such an attempt could also be through slow poisoning,” he stated.

He said the current developments were “not just an execution of a London ‘plan’ but London ‘agreement’ that was signed between a cowardly fugitive and corrupt criminal and his facilitators”.

Taking a jibe at PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, who has returned to the country after four years after securing multiple bails, Imran said: “The only way a convicted criminal could be allowed to return to politics with a clean chit is by destroying State institutions. And hence, what we are witnessing is a complete collapse of our justice system.”

The PTI chief asserted that all cases against him were “completely bogus”, “politically motivated”, and concocted to keep him in jail “for certain till after the elections or maybe much longer beyond the elections”.

Detailing his health, he said, “At the moment I am physically fit. I would know if my body was experiencing change from weakness.”

He then went on to say that “they have already made two public attempts to take my life” — one in November last year when he was shot at and injured during a rally in Wazirabad and then an alleged one in March when he skipped court hearings because of “100 per cent confirmed information” of an assassination attempt.

On the topic of elections, the ex-premier said, “I have directed my lawyers and party office bearers to hold conventions all over the country and also commence the campaign for whenever elections are held.”

Plan to keep Imran behind bars during polls, sister says

Speaking to the media outside the court, Imran’s sister, Aleema Khan, said, “There is no court in Pakistan that can give justice to the PTI chairman.”

Vowing to stand with her brother, she asserted he was the party leader even if he was in jail. “What the PTI chairman said to us in jail on October 24 is being proven correct,” Aleema said.

“He said that there was not a London plan but an agreement was made in London. Whatever is happening now is taking place under that agreement and in my opinion, our courts are supporting that agreement,” she alleged.

The sister went on to reiterate the claims made by Imran in his message shared today about a plan to bar him from contesting elections. “The lawyers will continue their efforts but the public should not have any hope.”

When asked if anyone had contacted her or Imran or the party about any “backdoor channel or deal to facilitate” him to go abroad, Aleema replied, “See, no one has directly done so but a lot of people do approach you that ‘do something that Khan sahib goes abroad’ […].

“My brother has worked hard for 27 years to wake this nation up. Do think he will waste his hard work of 27 years today and leave this precious country of his?” she asked.

Aleema also confirmed that Imran was able to talk to his sons “after three months” and was “very happy” about it.

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