ISLAMABAD: As former prime minister Imran Khan decried what he called ‘unilateral’ proceedings at Adiala Jail, the state-appointed counsel on Monday concluded the cross-examination of all 25 prosecution witnesses in the cipher case while the judge closed the defence lawyers’ right to examine witnesses in the Toshakhana reference.

Special Court (Official Secrets Act) judge Abual Hasnat Moham­mad Zulqarnain had on Saturday appointed the state counsel as the lawyers representing the PTI founding chairman and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi were not available for cross-examination of witnesses in the cipher case.

Earlier, the state counsel had cross-examined 10 witnesses, while defence lawyers four.

The proceedings in the cipher case started on Monday with heated arguments from the counsel for Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi as they expressed lack of confidence in judge Zulqarnain. They filed an application asking the judge to recuse himself over his decision to appoint the state counsel for the two PTI leaders to cross-examine the witnesses.

The judge heard the arguments of the defence counsel and dismissed the petition. While the judge was dictating the order, he asked Mr Khan’s counsel Barrister Salman Safdar and Sikandar Zulqarnain if they were ready to cross-examine the witnesses. The lawyers asked the judge to decide the application first.

Judge Zulqarnain dismissed the application and asked the state counsel to cross-examine the witnesses on behalf of Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi. He left the courtroom, where accountability judge Mohammad Bashir convened the proceedings in the Toshakhana reference.

Judge Zulqarnain continued the proceedings till 11pm in which the state counsel concluded the cross-examination of 11 witnesses, including ex-principal secretary to the prime minister Azam Khan, former foreign secretary Sohail Mehmood and ex-ambassador to the United States Asad Majeed.

Accountability judge Bashir, while hearing the Toshakhana reference, asked the defence counsel to cross-examine the witnesses. However, a lawyer, Zaheer Abbas Chaudhry, appeared before the court and submitted Wakalatnama from Imran Khan. He informed the judge that since he had been engaged recently, he needed some time to get himself prepared for the case.

The prosecution, on the other hand, pointed out that Mr Chaudhry was the 9th lawyer to have filed the Wakalatnama from the defence side and termed this a part of delaying tactics.

Judge Bashir asked the defence counsel to cross-examine the witnesses, and after their reluctance, closed their right of examining the witnesses and asked Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi to record their statements under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Under this section, the judge can put questions to an accused person “on the case after the witnesses for the prosecution have been examined and before he is called on for his defence”.

While the proceedings in the Toshakhana reference were in progress, a prison official came and informed Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi that they were required to appear before judge Zulqarnain who recommenced the proceedings in the cipher case at another location within the jail premises.

Mr Khan was reluctant to appear before the judge; however, Mr Qureshi appeared before him to attend the proceedings.

The prison authorities allowed only three court reporters to cover the proceedings of the cipher case that continued for over 13 hours.

‘Fixed match’

Talking to media persons, Imran Khan said the speed of the trial suggested that the “match is already fixed”. He said that every effort is being made to save US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu.

He expressed his willingness to hold dialogue with the establishment, saying the recent events had discredited the general elections. He alleged that the chief justice of Pakistan is responsible for the arrests of PTI workers. He said he would ask for conducting an inquiry against those who haven’t come out for electioneering.

The PTI founder claimed that PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan under a deal with the establishment and he is still relying upon ‘Vigo vehicle’ to reach the Prime Minister’s Office. He challenged to hold the biggest-ever rally if allowed for once.

Mr Khan claimed that former army chief retired Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was “seeking a deal for the opposition leaders, adding that he would ask the court to summon Gen Bajwa, Donald Lu and the military attaché as witnesses.

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2024

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