• IHC rejects ex-PM’s petitions and immunity claims; notes he apparently committed an offence under Official Secrets Act
• PTI chief ‘may face death penalty or up to 14 years imprisonment’
• Refuses to record statement in May 9 case; Qureshi questioned in Adiala Jail
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday declined bail to detained former prime minister Imran Khan in a case in which he has been indicted on charges of leaking state secrets, observing that he apparently committed the offence, which might carry the death penalty or up to 14 years of imprisonment.
The court also rejected another petition filed by the PTI chief in which he had asked the court to cancel the FIR in the cipher case.
The charge is related to a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States last year, which Mr Khan is accused of making public. Mr Khan denies this, arguing that the contents of the cable appeared in the media from other sources.
The prosecution’s case is based on a complaint by Yousaf Naseem Khokhar, secretary of the Ministry of Interior. He alleged that Mr Khan and another PTI leader, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, communicated the cipher in an unauthorised manner. The content was allegedly manipulated, jeopardising state security for personal benefits.
It was also alleged that in a March 2022 meeting in Banigala, Mr Khan and several others plotted to exploit the cipher’s contents for political gains.
Defending Mr Khan, his lawyer Sardar Latif Khan Khosa argued that the facts of the case didn’t fit within Sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
He also stressed that Mr Khan, as a former prime minister, had constitutional immunity from prosecution under Article 248 of the Constitution.
The counsel pointed to the prime minister’s oath, provided in the third schedule of the Constitution, emphasising Mr Khan’s duty to keep the public informed, which he said Mr Khan accordingly did by highlighting a conspiracy by a foreign government to overthrow his government.
Barrister Salman Safdar, another counsel for Mr Khan, argued that the case lacked precise allegations and that details had been omitted fraudulently. Besides, the case was based mainly on a co-accused’s statement, he said, adding that the Official Secrets Act primarily pertained to armed forces personnel.
However, Special Prosecutor Raja Rizwan Abbasi contested these arguments, insisting that the act applied to all citizens.
He argued that as prime minister, Mr Khan received a decoded copy of the cipher at his office. He was supposed to return the cable, but he did not, and instead kept it with him and allegedly tampered with its contents for political advantage.
He also argued that Mr Khan didn’t enjoy immunity in the cipher case under Article 248 of the Constitution.
The court’s final verdict stressed that Mr Khan’s failure to safeguard the classified document and subsequent public dissemination could lead to severe legal repercussions.
It specifically mentioned potential penalties under subsections (a) and (d) of Section 5(1) of the Official Secrets Act, under which Mr Khan could face the death penalty or up to 14 years of jail.
Commenting on Mr Khan’s defence that he was exposing a conspiracy, the court underscored the classified nature of ciphers and the prime minister’s responsibility not to disclose sensitive information. The court said that it was in fact an admission that such disclosure was made.
Relying on a statement of former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq observed that “no conspiracy was hatched in a foreign country and that, making the contents of cipher known to public jeopardises the cipher code security and let down Pakistan in international diplomatic circles and strained relations of Pakistan with a foreign country”.
The court emphasised that Mr Khan’s act of revealing the cipher’s contents during a public gathering in March last year was not a part of his duties as prime minister, as it was a political gathering.
Moreover, Mr Khan as prime minister “had no authority to declassify the cipher or make the contents public, as it was a classified document”, the court said.
Rejecting the arguments regarding Mr Khan’s immunity, Justice Farooq noted that only the country’s president and governors possess such immunity while in office, not the prime minister.
Due to the serious nature of the allegations and the potential penalty of death or up to 14 years imprisonment, the court declined Mr Khan’s bail request. It was also highlighted that the contested cipher copy remains in Mr Khan’s possession.
‘Another attempt’ on life
Meanwhile, the PTI chairma has expressed the apprehension that “they will try to make another attempt on my life while I am in jail”.
“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,” said a post on PTI’s offical X account, while quoting Mr Khan. “Such an attempt could also be through slow poisoning.”
Taking a jibe at PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, who has returned after four years , Mr Khan 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 “till after the elections or maybe much longer beyond the elections”.
About his health, he said, “At the moment, I am physically fit. I would know if my body was experiencing change from weakness.”
Meanwhile, Mr Khan’s sister Aleema Khan told the media there was no court that could give him justice.
Asked if anyone had contacted her, Mr Khan or the party for a “backdoor channel or deal to facilitate” him to go abroad, she said: “See, no one has directly done so, but a lot of people do approach you that ‘do something that Khan sahib goes abroad’.”
Later, PTI Central Information Secretary Raoof Hasan also came down hard on the IHC chief justice for rejecting Mr Khan’s bail plea.
He described the decision as “very partial, prejudiced, biased and totally against the basic principle of fair delivery of justice”.
“If the judiciary really wants to restore its dignity and prestige, it should immediately remove judges like Justice Farooq,” he said.
Police visit Imran, Qureshi in Adiala
Meanwhile, a day after Special Court and Anti-Terrorism Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain allowed the Rawalpindi police to investigate Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi in the May 9 riot case, the police on Friday night visited Adiala Jail to investigate them.
According to sources, Mr Khan refused to record any statement to the police in the absence of his lawyers. However, the police were able to record Mr Qureshi’s statement.
The court, however, rejected the request of Gujranwala police to investigate the PTI chief and Mr Qureshi in Adiala jail.
The police of Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Kasur visited Adiala jail on Friday at about 6pm and left the premises an hour later after questioning Mr Qureshi.
Syed Irfan Raza in Islamabad and Mohammad Asghar in Rawalpindi also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2023