Cypher case accused to get benefit of doubt

IHC inquires if Imran and Qureshi were informed of diplomatic telegram's sensitivity

Fiaz Mahmood April 23, 2024
Former prime minister Imran Khan publicly displaying the purported US cypher during a public gathering. SCREENGRAB


The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has underscored that the diplomatic cypher case is a criminal matter where the benefit of the doubt will be accorded to the accused - former prime minister Imran Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

A division bench, led by IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and including Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, resumed hearing appeals filed by Imran and Qureshi against their conviction in a case related to the misuse of a diplomatic telegram during the final days of the PTI government.

A special court sentenced both PTI leaders to ten years in prison on January 30, 2023, while hearing a case filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in August 2023.

Hamid Shah, the prosecutor for the FIA, resumed his arguments on Monday in support of the trial court’s verdict. During the proceedings, Justice Farooq asked Shah to clarify the definition of a cypher and whether all coded communications are classified.

The prosecutor responded that according to the law, every coded communication is considered classified, adding that the cypher allegedly displayed by Imran Khan at a public rally in Islamabad in March 2022 was a grade-two classified document.

“The cypher telegram was received by the Cipher Section [at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs] from Washington via email, and the Cipher Section later assigned it a number,” he explained.
When the prosecutor presented a book on cypher, the court inquired if it was also classified. “A number is assigned to this book. It is issued to the deputy attorney general, and only specific individuals can access it,” he added.
Responding to Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb's question about whether the coded cypher message was intercepted at any stage, the prosecutor replied in the negative. The court noted that the prosecutor should also clarify how Imran and Qureshi violated the law.

In response to a court query, the prosecutor stated that none of the prosecution witnesses mentioned the content of the cypher document during the trial court hearing. Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb observed that the entire case centred around the cypher document.

The court inquired of the FIA prosecutor whether the PM’s former principal secretary and one of the prosecution witnesses, Azam Khan, had informed the former PM and the FM about the sensitive nature of the document.

It noted that sometimes government functionaries may not understand how to handle specific information. The FIA prosecutor mentioned that every classified document is labeled with information about its sensitivity.

Justice Farooq pointed out that this information is not available to the court since the cypher document has never been entered into the court’s record. “In criminal cases, the benefit of even the slightest doubt is given to the accused,” Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb remarked. The court adjourned until today (Tuesday).


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