• AGP assures court testimonies taken after Dec 14 will be recorded afresh
• Adiala Jail chief directed to explain why reporters are denied access to Imran’s in-camera trial

ISLAMABAD: The Islam­abad High Court (IHC) on Thursday again scrapped the cipher trial proceedings by setting aside the special court’s Dec 14 order sanctioning in-camera hearings.

IHC Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb also declared the testimonies of nine witnesses recorded before the special court illegal.

The IHC was addressing an appeal challenging Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Mohammad Zulqarnain’s Dec 14 decision, which had sanctioned a closed-door trial for former prime minister Imran Khan at the prosecution’s request.

This directive also involved orders to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to prevent any reporting on the court’s proceedings.

Judge Hasnat had justified the in-camera proceedings under Section 14 of the Official Secrets Act, citing the need to “protect the sanctity of the cipher” — a confidential communication between Pakistan’s foreign missions and the Foreign Office — and the “sanctity of the state”.

Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan acknowledged that since Dec 14, a total of 13 witnesses had given statements, with three undergoing cross-examination. He told the court that these witnesses’ state­ments would be recorded afresh.

Mr Awan admitted that the trial proceedings from Dec 14 to 21 were not open to the public. He also conceded that the Dec 14 order was legally unsustainable, stating no objection to its nullification and confirming that the prosecution did not intend to request in-camera proceedings in the future.

Justice Aurangzeb observed that since the Dec 14 order for declaring the in-camera proceeding had not been recalled by the trial court, the court could not validate the statements recorded behind closed doors.

Subsequently, the court set aside the special court’s order and declared the subsequent proceedings as illegal.

Plea seeking media access

Meanwhile, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq sought a response from the superintendent of Adiala Jail and the Attorney General Office on a petition seeking access for the court reporters to witness the jail trial of former prime minister Imran Khan.

The petition, filed by a court reporter, said the jail authorities denied him access to witness the court proceeding even though the IHC has repeatedly observed that the jail proceeding was not in-camera.

The reporter’s counsel, Barrister Umer Ijaz Gillani, told the court that denying access to witness the cases related to a former prime minister was contradictory to Article 19 of the Constitution and Section 352 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

He said jail authorities were whimsically applying the discretion, depriving millions of people of their right to know the truth.

Justice Farooq issued notices to the respondent authorities and set the next hearing for Jan 15.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2024

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