ISLAMABAD: The Isla­mabad High Court (IHC) asked the special prosecutor of the Federal Investi­ga­tion Agency (FIA) on Monday why a copy of the cipher or its content had not been shared with the trial court judge, when the entire proceedings in the cipher case revolved aro­u­nd that single document.

Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb made this observation while hearing the appeals of ex-premier Imran Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi against their conviction in the cipher case.

A special court, established under the Official Secrets Act, handed both Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi 10-year jail sentences each in the case after Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain appo­inted a state counsel for them.

The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that the FIA’s charge sheet alleges was never returned by then-PM Imran Khan, who long held that the document contained a threat from the US to topple his government.

As member of the division bench that also comprised IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, Justice Aurangzeb noted that the cipher could be produced before the judge in a confidential manner.

The bench was of the opinion that since the proceeding in this matter is criminal in nature, the benefit of doubt will go in fav­our of the accused persons.

Earlier, FIA’s special prosecutor Hamid Ali Shah informed the bench that the missing cipher was a ‘Grade-II’ classified document and disclosure of its contents compromised its security protocol.

“Every coded communication is considered a secret document,” he reasoned.

During the course of arguments, the FIA counsel defined the cipher and its security protocol. He also submitted a booklet about the security protocol for cipher and apprised the court that the booklet was issued for ‘official use only’.

Earlier on Jan 18, only weeks before the Feb 8 general elections, former principal secretary Azam Khan testified before the special court that the cipher never returned to his office.

The former bureaucurat claimed he had intimated the then prime minister, his military secretary as well as the relevant staff numerous times.

Four days later, former foreign secretary Sohail Mehmood appeared before the trial court, claiming that the copy sent to ex-PM Khan was never returned while Mr Qureshi said he returned the copy to the ministry and the ex-secretary replied in the affirmative.

On the other hand, Mr Khan had claimed that the cipher was still with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and he had received only a rephrased version of the diplomatic cable.

However, the FIA special prosecutor told the IHC bench on Monday that the original copy of cipher remained in the custody of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the transcript was sent to the designated offices, adding that those copies were destroyed upon return.

The court adjourned further hearing till Tuesday (today).

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2024

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