• Media not allowed to attend ‘open court’ hearing at Adiala Jail
• Officials bar Imran from speaking to journalists

ISLAMABAD: For­mer foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has called for the special court conducting the cipher trial to bring Pre­sident Dr Arif Alvi to the stand to clarify whether he had approved amendments to the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

Mr Qureshi made the request when the trial against himself and former prime minister Imran Khan on the charge of leaking state secrets resumed at the Adiala Jail on Saturday.

The hearing, which was supposed to be open to media and the public despite being held in jail premises, was marked by restricted media access, with journalists being barred from entering the jail to attend the proceeding.

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

The charges against Imran Khan relate 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.

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 termed the government’s notification for jail trial “erroneous” and scrap­ped the entire proceedings.

As a result of the judgement, the special court started a fresh trial. Earlier this week, Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqar­nain 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 Friday’s hearing.

On Saturday, however, jail authorities prevented media people from entering the jail, with many local and international journalists outside when the hearing began.

After the hearing ended, it came to light that three reporters from different TV channels were allowed to witness the proceedings, but that too after the hearing had ended and the prosecutors had already left the courtroom.

Sources told Dawn that when the media persons entered the jail’s courtroom, Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi were having a discussion with their family members and lawyers.

When Mr Khan began to talk to media persons, the security officials asked him not to do so.

Trial to be conducted ‘on merit’

During the hearing, Mr Qureshi asked the court whether their trial was being conducted under the Official Secrets Act, 1923, or its amended version from this year, Dawn.com reported.

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

Mr 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 Khan. Addressing Mr Qureshi, Judge Zulqarnain said his objection had been solved as “media and public are present”.

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

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

Counsel for both PTI leaders appeared before the court as well as their family members, including Mr Khan’s wife.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2023

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