Imran, Qureshi get 10 years in ‘hasty’ sentence

Published January 31, 2024
Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s daughter, Gauhar Bano (left), and his wife, Mehriene, speak to the media outside the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi on Tuesday.—AFP
Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s daughter, Gauhar Bano (left), and his wife, Mehriene, speak to the media outside the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi on Tuesday.—AFP

• Former premier, foreign minister punished under Official Secrets Act; ex-FM’s statement not recorded
• Bushra records statement in Toshakhana case; judge declines PTI founder’s request for cross-examination

ISLAMABAD: After its proceedings were struck down by the high court over irregularities twice, the month-long cipher case came to an end on Tuesday, as a special court set up under the Official Secrets Act sentenced former prime minister Imran Khan and his foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to 10 years in prison for the breach of state secrets.

The judgement was announced by Judge Abual Hasnat Mohammad Zulqarnain at a makeshift courtroom in Adiala Jail just before noon, after which the presiding judge left the premises quickly, and left Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi waiting for the signed copies of the verdict. Mr Khan appeared unfazed as the judgement was being pronounced and heard the verdict with a smile.

Subsequently, the prison staff came over and informed Mr Qureshi to head back to his jail cell where he would get a copy of the verdict.

Not more than an hour had passed before Acco­u­ntability Judge Moham­mad Bashir arrived in the courtroom to resume proceedings of the Toshakhana case against Imran Khan and Bushra Bibi, who was also present in the courtroom.

At the outset of the Toshakhana proceedings, the judge asked Imran Khan to record his statement under Article 342 of CrPC. This made Imran Khan quip: “My conviction is likely to be doubled.” The statement, however, will be recorded today.

It may be noted that the PTI leaders were not allowed to hire their own counsels and the judge had provided them with state counsel. Mr Khan had multiple times changed his lawyers over the past couple of weeks and his lead counsel could not appear in a few hearings on medical grounds, which seemingly led to this decision.

The state counsels concluded the cross-examination of 21 witnesses at a li­g­htning pace, merely in two sessions. On Mon­day, the proceedings lasted for an estimated 11 hours.

Statements of Imran and Qureshi

On Tuesday, judge Zul­q­a­rnain recorded the statement of Mr Khan under Section 342 of the CrPC. In the statement, Mr Khan said that the cipher unearthed the alleged the alleged conspiracy hatched against his regime, which prompted the National Security Committee (NSC) to issue a demarche to the US.

He said that ex-army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu were involved in the conspiracy, and the cipher case was initiated against him to keep him silent.

In response to a question put to him by the court about the whereabouts of the diplomatic cable, Mr Khan expressed doubt over an aide-de-camp (ADC) for stealing the copy of the confidential document and claimed that his ADC might have forwarded the copy to Gen Bajwa.

He said that when he ordered an inquiry into this matter, the head of the inquiry committee, Gen Tariq, recused himself from undertaking this assignment because Gen Bajwa was against the probe. At the end of his statement, the judge again asked him, “Where is the cipher?” At this, Mr Khan responded it might be in the office of the prime minister.

After announcing the verdict, the judge stepped out of the courtroom, at which Mr Qureshi protested that his statement was not recorded.

Toshakhana reference

The cipher case conviction was followed by the Toshakhana case. Judge Mohammad Bashir had already closed the right of cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses and asked Mr Khan and his spouse to record their statement under Section 342.

But Mr Khan requested the court to allow his lawyers to cross-question three key witnesses in the case, including an appraiser and the military secretary. He said that his legal team had procured evidence of the actual value of the ‘Graff jewellery’ which was Rs180 million, but the prosecution evaluated its worth to be over Rs3 billion. “I am in a position to refute the testimonies of the appraiser,” he claimed.

However, Amjad Pervaiz, the NAB special prosecutor, argued that Mr Khan changed nine lawyers in a couple of weeks and the ninth one instead of cross-examining the witnesses had sought further time.

He pointed out that Mr Khan’s counsel Shahbaz Khan Khosa was also present in the courtroom. Defence counsel Usman Gill stated before the court that Mr Khosa was “meeting Imran Khan in a personal capacity” not as his lawyer.

During the hearing, Mr Khan reminded the judge that “there is a court above all the courts of the world and the ultimate judge [Allah] is judging everyone”. He recalled that judge Zulqarnain hurriedly pronounced the verdict and ran away.

Mr Khan’s legal team also submitted an application before the judge for the restoration of the right of cross-examination, which was turned down by Judge Bashir. Though Mr Khan could not record his statement, Bushra Bibi did and the proceedings ended at 7pm on Tuesday after the judge started feeling unwell.

Talking to the reporters in the courtroom, Mr Khan said that he knew that “the match was fixed” but he did not know that the case would culminate in such an “ugly manner”.

In response to a question, he claimed that Gen Bajwa hatched a conspiracy against PTI’s regime to get a second extension, which had been promised to him by Shehbaz Sharif.

Despite their efforts, Gen Bajwa could not get the second extension as Nawaz Sharif snubbed the extension plan. According to Mr Khan, Nawaz Sharif was against Gen Bajwa since the latter included intelligence officers in the joint investigation team constituted to probe Panama papers.

PTI denounces verdict

The PTI denounced the verdict and hoped that the founding chairman would get relief from superior courts. It advised party workers not to create any situation regarding the law and order.

“Don’t throw even a pebble at anyone because it will go against the party and its founding chairman. We need to concentrate on the elections and our focus should be on winning the election,” a spokesperson said.

PTI Central Information Secretary Raoof Hasan called the verdict ‘murder of justice’. “We will pursue all constitutional and legal means to secure justice for PTI founding chairman and vice chairman,” he vowed.

With input from Ikram Junaidi

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2024

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