The Islamabad High Court on Tuesday halted proceedings against PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the cipher case, stressing the need for the court to be informed about the “circumstances” that prompted the trial to be conducted in jail.
The IHC division bench, comprising Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb and Justice Saman Rafat Imtiaz, passed the orders on the ex-premier’s intra-court appeal against a single-member bench’s decision that had approved Imran’s jail trial.
The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that the Federal Investigation Agency’s charge sheet alleges was never returned by Imran. The PTI has long held that the document contained a threat from the United States to oust Imran as prime minister.
The former premier and his aide Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is also behind bars, were indicted in the case on Oct 23. They have pleaded not guilty.
The IHC has endorsed Imran’s indictment, disposing of his plea against the same, but had also instructed the special court judge to ensure a “fair trial”.
During the hearing today, PTI chief Imran Khan’s lawyer, Salman Akram Raja, and the Attorney General Mansoor Awan were present in the court.
At the outset, Awan informed the bench that the federal cabinet had approved Imran’s jail trial, adding that a copy of the relevant notification would be presented.
Justice Aurangzeb said the court would scrutinise the notification, questioning the “extraordinary circumstances” that led to the trial being conducted in its current manner. “We want to know the actual events; you have to inform us,” the judge observed.
The court also sought clarification on the reasons behind the federal cabinet’s approval of the jail trial. “The most important question lies in determining the status of court proceedings preceding the cabinet’s approval,” Justice Aurangzeb asked.
The judge also referred to former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi’s jail trial, saying, “It was conducted at Tihar Jail where media was not allowed. Similar to that scenario involving a former premier, this case also involves the ex-PM.”
After the arguments, the court sought a reply from the attorney general and adjourned the hearing.
Earlier today, Special Court (Official Secrets Act) Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain presided over the hearing of the cipher case conducted at the Adiala district jail.
Prior to the hearing, the PTI leaders’ legal teams and relatives as well as the FIA’s team reached jail.
Barrister Salman Safdar, Umair Niazi, Sikander Zulqarnain and Khalid Yousuf Chaudhry appeared as Imran’s counsels while Barrister Taimur Malik and Faiza Shah were among Qureshi’s lawyers.
Zulfiqar Abbas Naqvi and Shah Khawar were among the prosecutors who appeared before the trial court.
Limited family members of both the accused were allowed to attend the hearing today as they were permitted to do so during the previous hearing.
The former foreign minister’s daughters Gauhar Bano and Mehr Bano, as well as the ex-premier’s sisters Aleema Khan, Dr Uzma Khanum and Naureen Khanum, reached the Adaila Jail to attend the hearing.
Talking to media after the six-hour-long hearing, Qureshi’s lawyer Barrister Malik said statements of two witnesses, including an official of the Foreign Office, were recorded in the court.
He said the defence team requested that they be provided the FO’s transcript issued on April 25 last year. “We have asked the judge to provide us copies of all the documents submitted as case record,” Malik added.
He said the hearing was subsequently adjourned till Friday.
Law ministry approves jail trial in Al-Qadir case
Meanwhile, the law ministry issued a notification approving Imran’s trial for offences under the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 at the Adiala jail.
The notification was issued hours after an Islamabad accountability court sought details from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) about whether a notification was issued for a jail hearing of the Al-Qadir Trust case against Imran.
In August, the PTI chief was jailed after he was convicted in the Toshakhana case. Although his sentence was suspended on Aug 29, Imran remained in jail because he was on judicial remand in the cipher case.
Today, Judge Mohammad Bashir presided over the hearing. At the outset of the proceedings, he asked the NAB prosecutor when he planned to present the former premier before the court.
He also inquired whether Imran was still in jail or was shifted to NAB’s office, to which the prosecutor answered that it was not in his knowledge.
Judge Bashir then ordered the prosecutor to inquire about the matter and also if there was a notification issued regarding the jail trial of the former prime minister.
When reporters, who were in the courtroom inquired about the case, the judge replied that only NAB could tell where the PTI chairman would be presented. When asked about the jail trial, the judge observed that if a notification for the same had been issued, the hearing would be held in Adiala jail.
Judge Bashir also asked if the reporters would go to the jail for coverage, to which they replied that they were not allowed to enter the jail for reporting.
At this, the judge remarked, “There should be permission. This is why open courts exist. If there is a jail trial, then we will also do something about you all. Can’t we give [reporters] any [entry] pass, etc?”
The reporters agreed they should be given access to cover trial proceedings while the judge noted, “This is the benefit of an open court that whatever the witness is saying, everyone can hear for themselves.”
Additional reporting by Abdullah Momand.