Qureshi asks special court to summon Alvi, ask whether president assented to secrets law changes

Published December 2, 2023
Police vehicles arrive at the Adiala district jail prior to the cipher trial hearing on Dec 2. — Screengrab from video provided by author
Police vehicles arrive at the Adiala district jail prior to the cipher trial hearing on Dec 2. — Screengrab from video provided by author

Ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Saturday urged the special court conducting the cipher trial to summon President Dr Arif Alvi so he could testify before the court whether he had assented to changes in the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

The cipher trial proceedings against former prime minister Imran Khan and his aide Qureshi resumed at the Adiala jail today as jail authorities prevented most media workers from attending the “open court” hearing.

In August, President Alvi had denied approving changes to the Secrets Act — under which the cipher trial is being held — and the Pakistan Army Act while the law ministry had rebuked his statement and asked him to “take responsibility for his own actions”.

The 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 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 was to start a fresh trial now.

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.

As per the special court’s orders, those who wished to attend the proceedings were not to be stopped from doing so and journalists were also to be permitted to witness the trial. The judge had also assured the PTI lawyers of the same during yesterday’s hearing.

Today, however, jail authorities prevented media workers from entering the jail, with a huge number of local and international journalists outside the jail when the hearing began.

At around 10:15am, only two media workers were allowed to enter the jail but it remains unclear if they were able to attend the hearing.

Adil Saeed Abbasi, a reporter for PNN News, told Dawn.com that his team arrived at the jail at around 8am but it had been more than two hours and they were not allowed to enter the premises.

He said the jail superintendent asked the media workers for their names, noted them down and simply went back three times.

Most media workers and citizens remained unable to attend the hearing. After the hearing ended, it came to light that three reporters from different TV channels were allowed to witness the proceedings.

The counsels of both PTI leaders appeared before the court as well as their family members, including Imran’s wife Bushra Bibi and sisters, and Qureshi’s daughter Mehr Bano and son Zain.

During the hearing, the attendance of Imran and Qureshi was marked, after which the proceedings were adjourned till Dec 4 (Monday).

 NAB special prosecutor Zulfikar Abbas Naqvi speaks to media outside Adiala jail. — Photo provided by author
NAB special prosecutor Zulfikar Abbas Naqvi speaks to media outside Adiala jail. — Photo provided by author

Speaking to the reporters after the hearing concluded, NAB special prosecutor Zulfikar Abbas Naqvi said today’s proceedings were only to the extent of marking the suspects’ attendance.

When asked about the issue of journalists not being allowed inside the courtroom, the prosecutor said the judge was “reviewing the matter himself”.

The hearing

At the outset of the hearing, Qureshi asked the court about whether their trial was being conducted under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 or the amended version of it from this year.

Asserting that the jail administration had violated court orders, he said, “We never had security risks. I always used to travel alone in my car.”

Terming the case as baseless, the PTI leader recalled that President Arif Alvi had said he did not assent to the bills amending the Secrets Act.

Here, Qureshi urged the court to summon the president, adding: “He should swear in court whether he has assented to these amendments or not.”

The former foreign minister then said that renowned lawyers were ready to plead the case for Imran. Addressing Qureshi, Judge Zulqarnain said his objection had been solved as “media and public are present”.

Noting that both PTI leaders’ trials could not be held separately as the case was “interlinked”, the judge recalled that Qureshi had not been presented due to security concerns.

Here, the judge told Qureshi, “No section of the law amended by Arif Alvi will apply to you. Your trial will be held according to sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act. We will conduct the proceedings on merit.”

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