The special court on Friday said it would hear the cipher trial against former prime minister Imran Khan and ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at Adiala jail tomorrow after the law ministry notified the same.

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 Qureshi, who is also behind bars, were indicted in the case on Oct 23. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The trial was being held at Adiala Jail and four witnesses had already recorded their statements, with the fifth being cross-examined when an Islamabad High Court division bench had termed the government’s notification for jail trial “erroneous” and scrapped the entire proceedings.

As a result of the judgement, the special court would now start a fresh trial.

Earlier this week, Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain had ruled that the trial proceedings would continue at the Adiala jail but in an open court.

Today, defence counsel Sikandar Zulqarnain and Qureshi’s lawyer Ali Bukhari appeared before the special court at Islamabad’s Federal Judicial Complex (FJC). Imran’s sisters also reached the FJC, including Aleema Khan who appeared before the court.

During the hearing, the court staff informed the judge that no notification from the law ministry to hold the trial at the Adiala jail had been received yet, to which the judge said he would decide once a notification had been issued.

In case a notification was not issued, Judge Zulqarnain said he would issue production orders for Imran and Qureshi to be presented before the special court at the FJC.

However, the law ministry’s notification dated Nov 29 emerged, which granted “sanction for conducting the proceedings and trial” of Imran and others in the cipher case at the Adiala Central Jail.

The written order issued by the court, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said that Imran and Qureshi were not produced before the court at the previous hearing.

It said that letters were also written to the Islamabad chief commissioner office and the Adiala jail superintendent for the “necessary sanctions and arrangements” for conducting a jail trial. It further said that a response had been received in this regard and “sanction has been accorded” by the federal government.

Noting that the IHC had directed to conclude the trial within four weeks, the court said further proceedings would be conducted on Dec 2 at 9am “regarding attendance of the accused persons as well as further proceedings”.

The hearing

At the outset of the hearing, the judge asked whether a notification had been received from the law ministry to hold the trial at Adiala jail, as decided by the court this week.

The court staff then informed Judge Zulqarnain that no such notification had been received yet, to which the judge said he would decide once a notification had been issued.

Here, Bukhari argued that there was “no report to the extent” of Qureshi and urged the court to present his client in the court. Barrister Taimur Malik also said both PTI leaders should have been presented before the court today.

The judge directed them to read the previous hearing’s order, which they complied with.

Judge Zulqarnain said, “We will review [the matter] once the notification to hold a jail trial arrives. If the jail trial notification does not come, then we will issue production orders.”

Sikandar then recalled that the special court reviewed its own order of Nov 23 that called for the PTI leaders to be presented in court. The judge again asked the lawyer to read the court’s Nov 28 order, wherein he would “find the answers to all questions”.

The defence counsel also asserted that the same order was “legally incorrect” as the Adiala jail was a “prohibited area” where videography and photography were not allowed. He said, “It should be decided that journalists will be allowed to enter the courtroom.”

Here, Judge Zulqarnain asked if it was the “court’s authority to review matters regarding threats”, to which Sikandar said that an additional inspector general voicing concerns was not enough and relevant reports should also be present.

The judge then noted that there were security reports attached to the Adiala jail superintendent’s letter that was submitted to the court earlier this week.

Judge Zulqarnain observed that the presence of journalists during the hearing was “necessary”, to which Sikandar said that the court would need to term the jail as a court as well as declare it an “unprohibited place”.

The judge then reassured the lawyers that journalists would be present.

Here, Qureshi’s counsel argued that the Nov 28 order was “incomplete” as it did not mention any directives regarding his client, to which the judge noted that Imran was the prime suspect whereas Qureshi was co-accused.

Bukhari also asserted that the order did not list the reasons for conducting the hearing in jail, arguing that the special court was bound to follow the IHC’s orders.

He said, “Everything, including the indictment and distribution of [charge sheet] copies, should be done in the presence of the suspects.”

Here, Judge Zulqarnain said, “Not only will justice be done but it will be seen as well.” He noted that the special court was bound to conduct the jail trial but the hearing was “subject to the jail”.

The judge reiterated that he waiting for the law ministry’s notification, to which the defence counsel said to “shift the court to the jail”. The court noted that the IHC had not declared the trial illegal due to the proceedings but because of it not being held in an open court.

The defence counsel argued that it was “unlawful” to keep Imran and Qureshi detained after the Nov 28 order of the special court.

Judge Zulqarnain then directed the lawyers to wait for the law ministry’s notification. At this point, Imran’s sister Aleema came to the rostrum and asked when the notification was expected to arrive.

The judge replied, “If the law ministry’s notification does not arrive, I will ask for it.”

When the hearing resumed after a break, the judge said the law ministry’s notification had arrived and adjourned the hearing till tomorrow, noting that the IHC also had to be informed.

The PTI lawyers requested the court to fix the hearing for Dec 5 while the Federal Investigation Agency’s prosecutor urged for the trial to be held today at the Adiala jail.

However, the judge adjourned the hearing till tomorrow (Saturday) along with a plea pertaining to the production of the PTI leaders in court.

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