Imran dubs cipher trial a ‘joke’ over appointment of state defence team

Published January 27, 2024
A view of the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi today where the cipher trial proceedings were underway on January 27, 2024. — Photo by author
A view of the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi today where the cipher trial proceedings were underway on January 27, 2024. — Photo by author

Deploring the appointment of state defence counsels in the cipher case, former prime minister Imran Khan on Saturday said the trial was nothing less than a “joke” because the prosecution and defence team both belonged to the government.

“The prosecution team and defence counsels both belong to the government,” Imran said during the hearing today. “This is a joke.”

An order of Friday’s hearing issued today, available with Dawn.com, stated that Malik Abdur Rehman was appointed as Imran’s state defence counsel while Hazrat Younis would defend former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Authored by Judge Abual Hasnaat Muhammad Zulqarnain, the order noted that the defence counsel on January 16 had agreed to conduct the cross-examinations but did not appear in the next two court hearings.

“Despite several opportunities given to the learned counsels for accused persons, this court is left with no choice but to appoint defense counsels for the accused persons to conduct cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses (PWs),” the order stated.

“They will represent the case and will conduct cross-examination on the PWs. All the remaining PWs be summoned and the PWs present in court today are bound [..] to come up on Jan 27, 2024,” it added.

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.

Last year in December, Justice Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb had restrained the special court from proceeding against the suspects — including Qureshi — till Jan 11, noting that there were “legal errors” in the case.

The decision had come on Imran’s petition challenging the trial — being conducted at Adiala Jail — and subsequent developments, including the framing of charges and a gag order on the media.

The special court had begun the cipher trial afresh last month at the Adiala district jail after Imran and Qureshi were indicted for a second time in the case on December 13.

The former premier and Qureshi, who is also behind bars, were first indicted in the case in October. Both had pleaded not guilty. The IHC had termed the government’s notification for a jail trial “erroneous” and scrap­ped the entire proceedings.

In December, the Supreme Court had approved the post-arrest bails of Imran and Qureshi. While Imran remains incarcerated in other cases, Qureshi’s expected release was also stalled as he was manhandled and re-arrested in a fresh May 9 case.

Yesterday, the FIA prosecutor asked the special court to close the defence counsel’s right to cross-examination, alleging that the defence side was applying delaying tactics to prolong the trial.

Hearing

During the hearing of the case earlier today, senior PTI lawyers were not present so which cross-examination of witnesses couldn’t take place again.

However, assistant lawyers Usman Gill and Khalid Yousuf Chaudhry were in attendance. The state defence counsels appointed by the court for Imran and Qureshi, Advocates Rehman and Younis also turned up.

At the hearing’s outset, a heated argument occurred between Imran and the judge with the PTI founder and Qureshi expressing shock at the government lawyers representing them in court.

Imran and Qureshi expressed no-confidence in the ability of the lawyers to defend them with the latter throwing the case file at the government lawyers.

Judge Zulqarnain reminded Imran and Qureshi that their lawyers did not appear before the court despite being given three chances.

At this, Qureshi interjected saying: “This is not a government drama and it will not go on like this. What value will the trial have like this?”

The judge maintained that it was easy for him to put an end to the right of defence, however, Judge Zulqarnanin said that he still granted the accused persons with state defence counsels.

“I am tired of ordering your lawyers to appear before the court,” he added. “The Supreme Court had stated that the court can cancel the bail awarded to the accused persons if hurdles are created in the trial.”

Here, Qureshi said a mockery was made out of the Supreme Court’s decision, highlighting that he was picked up in another case as soon as he was released.

Judge Zulqarnain then asked Qureshi what was the point of delaying the case.

“No one stays happy in jail,” Qureshi replied. “I want to present my lawyers. I don’t trust government lawyers.”

The judge told Qureshi to call his lawyers to the court.

“Prosecution-named lawyers will be carrying out our defence,” he said. “This only proves that the decision has already been taken against us.”

Gul informed the court that former caretaker Punjab chief minister Najam Sethi recently said that the verdict of the cipher case would be announced by February 5.

“Najam Sethi should be summoned to the court and asked where he obtained that information from,” Qureshi told the judge. At this, the judge asked Qureshi whether he trusted Sethi more or the court.

FIA prosecutor Rizwan Abbasi urged the court to cancel the bail of Imran and Qureshi in light of the Supreme Court verdict. Here, Judge Zulqarnain told the prosecutor that he would look into the bail matter himself.

Imran and Qureshi also got a chance to talk to media persons inside the courtroom. However, as the hearing continued further, journalists were later asked to leave the courtroom.

At this, the judge said he provided them with whatever relief could be given.

“Whether it’s providing you with the cipher or meeting with the lawyers, I accepted all your requests,” he said. “I have 75 requests on record pertaining to meetings.”

Imran pointed out that the meetings did not take place despite the judge’s order.

The ex-premier deplored how he did not have the right to fight the case through his lawyers. “The case proceedings should be conducted in Urdu,” Imran said. “We don’t understand the English spoken by government lawyers.”

The PTI founder termed the case proceedings as conflicting with the demands of a transparent trial, adding that such a trial had never taken place in the country’s history.

Qureshi said the Kot Lakhpat jail had never been disrespected like this before. He said justice was being denied. “Neither is there present the fear of Allah, fear of the Constitution, or the fear of law.”

The PTI founder contended before the court that their lawyers were not being allowed to enter the jail.

“If Shah Mahmood Qureshi wants to present his arguments, he can do it himself too,” the judge said. “It was easy for me to deprive you of your right to defence.”

Accepting the request of the accused persons, the court ordered the Adiala Jail superintendent to allow the defendants to meet their lawyers.

The cross-examination of nine more witnesses was completed today by the government lawyers. In total, the cross-examination of 13 witnesses has been completed so far.

The hearing was adjourned till Monday when the cross-examinations of 12 more witnesses will begin.


More to follow.

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