PTI’s Imran, Qureshi again indicted in cipher case

Published December 13, 2023
This combo photo shows PTI Chairman Imran Khan (left) and Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi. — Photos courtesy: DawnNewsTV/CNN Screenshot
This combo photo shows PTI Chairman Imran Khan (left) and Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi. — Photos courtesy: DawnNewsTV/CNN Screenshot

A special court established under the Official Secrets Act on Wednesday once again indicted former premier Imran Khan and ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the cipher case.

The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) 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.

Imran and Qureshi were initially indicted in the case on Oct 23. Both had 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 (IHC) division bench termed the government’s notification for a jail trial “erroneous” and scrap­ped the entire proceedings.

As a result of the judgment, the special court started a fresh trial. Last month, Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqar­nain had ruled that the trial proceedings would continue at the Adiala Jail but in an open court.

On Monday, the former premier had challenged the process of his indictment in the cipher case in the IHC, urging it to halt the proceedings till deciding on this petition.

The special court was initially meant to indict both Imran and Qureshi on Tuesday but the process was deferred till today.

Today’s hearing took place at Adiala jail. Both the PTI leaders pleaded not guilty as the court sought evidence from the prosecution. Imran’s wife Bushra Bibi and his sisters were also in attendance alongside Qureshi’s family and FIA Special Prosecutor Zulfiqar Abbas Naqvi.

During the hearing, the judge read out the two-page charge sheet against the PTI leaders. The charge sheet alleged that the two had violated the Official Secrets Act during their time in office.

It alleged that Imran had waved a secret diplomatic document at a public rally on March 27, adding that the accused used the cipher for his own personal interests.

Qureshi pleaded his innocence after the charges were read out, while Imran said, “I did something wrong by exposing the domestic and foreign establishment. Add that to the list of charges too.”

He further said, “They made us the accused after toppling our government. How can the one who was ousted also be the accused?”

Imran further said that this entire “drama” was being staged to save ex-army chief retired Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and US diplomat Donald Lu.

The PTI chief that he was “not afraid of the death penalty”. He insisted that the cipher was written to topple his government. “There is a conspiracy within the cipher which is being hidden,” he said.

“How can there be a fair trial when the media is being muzzled? If a fair trial is not conducted, the responsibility will lie with you for the rest of your life,” Imran said.

At this, the judge reminded the PTI chief that this was a court of law and his tone was “not appropriate”.

Meanwhile, Qureshi said he had seen “hundreds” of ciphers during his time in office as well as issued instructions on them but the one in question was “unique”.

“The foreign minister is known as the chief diplomat across the world. Then a cipher comes which is not shown to the chief diplomat. In my view, there must be some reason for keeping it hidden,” he said.

He asked for not conducting a “one-sided trial” by keeping things hidden. “Two patriotic citizens are being ensnared in this case. I am innocent [and] they want to punish me,” he said.

The hearing was adjourned till tomorrow (Friday).

Speaking to the media outside the court, the FIA special prosecutor said that charges had been framed against Imran and Qureshi and the prosecution’s evidence would be presented in court tomorrow. He reiterated that the two had denied the charges against them.

Lawyers call proceedings a ‘farce’

Imran’s legal team criticised today’s proceedings while talking to the media after the hearing. Barrister Salman Akram Raja said only three to four media persons were allowed inside and seated behind a glass wall at a distance from the PTI leaders’ families.

“We will go back to the high court. I myself came here today to see what the conditions are and the things I’ve seen don’t seem anything more than a farce,” he said.

Lawyer Sardar Latif Khosa said the media persons and family members could not even hear the details of the hearing from where they were seated, questioning why they were even allowed to attend then.

Senior lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan also criticised the court proceedings, terming it a “mistrial” and “wrong”. He also criticised the treatment meted out to Qureshi, a former foreign minister.

Qureshi’s daughter Meher Bano said she was “amazed by the prosecution’s claim” that charges had been framed against Imran and her father.

“I was present in court and neither I nor the lawyers present witnessed any formal framing of charges. If this was indeed an OPEN TRIAL there were would be no such confusion,” she said.

Imran expresses ‘loss of faith’ in IHC CJ

Separately, Imran filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) seeking Chief Justice (CJ) Aamer Farooq’s recusal from all cases against him, saying that he had a “deep loss of faith” in the judge’s ability to do justice.

“This loss of justice is the consequence of a long line of events and circumstances spanning at least the entire period” of the IHC CJ’s tenure, the petition said.

It subsequently mentioned various incidents and circumstances to bolster its argument. Notably, it referred to Imran’s May 9 arrest which the IHC had deemed lawful while the Supreme Court had termed it unlawful. The petition said the apex court’s verdict was a “virtual indictment” of CJ Farooq.

Regarding the cipher case, it said that proceedings for a closed jail trial were upheld by CJ Farooq “in a most cursory manner”.

“This amounted to a most serious violation of the right of the accused to due process and for justice to be seen to be done,” the petition said, adding that a division bench of the high court had set aside the chief justice’s decision and affirmed the importance of an open trial.

It further said that the details of the conduct during other petitions and applications also added to the “loss of faith” in CJ Farooq, arguing that the aforementioned details were enough to explain Imran’s request that his cases not be heard by the chief justice.

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