IHC acquits Imran Khan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi in cipher case

Govt spokesperson says cipher case a ‘reality’ which cannot be denied

News Desk June 03, 2024


The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday acquitted the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founding chairman Imran Khan and PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the Cipher case.

The court suspended their 10 year sentence as it heard the appeals by the incarcerated ex-PM Imran and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Chief Justice Amir Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb announced the verdict.

On January 30, the special court established under the Official Secrets Act awarded Imran and Qureshi 10 years imprisonment in the high-profile cipher case.

On March 19, the IHC noted that the speeches delivered by Imran and Qureshi at a public rally in Islamabad on March 27, 2022, "appear to be political in nature."

A division bench comprising the IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb hear the appeals.

The PTI's lawyer informed the court that in the case, Imran and Qureshi were accused of illegally possessing the secret document, disclosing classified information to the public, and manipulating it for personal gain.

“However, even the special court judge [who convicted the PTI leaders] was not shown the said diplomatic cipher,” he said.

Chief Justice Farooq remarked "If the information has been twisted, then it should be known what the information was."

Barrister Safdar stated that the PTI leaders were accused of holding and misusing classified information for their purposes. However, in this case, the prosecution failed to link the alleged crime with revealing secrets concerning the armed forces and sensitive areas to foreign powers.

Justice Aurangzeb inquired, "What was written in the cipher?"

The lawyer replied, "I haven't seen the cipher, so I can't tell what is written in it." He said the cipher code or its text has not been shared anywhere.

“On one hand, it is said that the PTI founder has made everything public; on the other hand, it is said that if the cipher is shown, it will become public."

Read State attorneys in cipher case under IHC scrutiny

The court asked what was communicated from Washington in the cipher. It said the person who had sent that communication must have pinpointed what might compromise our security if it fell into the hands of India. The bench noted there was nothing unusual in the information shared with the court.

The FIA prosecutor reminded the court that they were awaiting the court's permission to present arguments against the maintainability of the appeal.

The bench noted that it would deliver a verdict on the merit of the appeals as well as their maintainability at the same time.

At the next hearing, Imran Khan’s counsel Barrister Salman Safdar contended before the IHC that registering the cipher case only against his client was an ‘act of retaliation’ as others had not returned the copies of the diplomatic cable until it was filed.

Safdar maintained that the requirements of a fair trial under Article 10A had not been fulfilled. The lawyer told the court that the diplomatic cable was not shown to the investigation officer (IO) terming it ‘secret’.

The bench observed that the judge could have ordered under the Official Secrets Act that the document should be shown after removing all the people from the courtroom.

The cypher

The case originated from Imran's public display of a paper during a rally in Islamabad on March 27, 2022, claiming it as evidence of an "international conspiracy" before a vote of no-confidence led to his government's ouster.

The FIA initiated its probe into the so-called “cypher-gate” on July 19, 2023, after the previous coalition government announced an official inquiry against Imran and his close associates for violating the OSA.

Imran was arrested on August 5, following his conviction in the Toshakhana case by a local court of Islamabad. Later, he was also arrested in the cypher case on August 29.

As per the challan papers, both Imran and Qureshi, the former foreign minister, were charged under sections 5 and 9 of the OSA. These provisions entail the possibility of the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Previously, the cypher trial had started inside the Adiala jail but an IHC division bench later annulled all those proceedings, ordering a fresh open court trial.

‘No compromise on national security’

Meanwhile, the government's spokesperson on legal affairs, Barrister Aqeel Malik, asserted that national security and sovereignty are paramount and will not be compromised under any circumstances.

“Cipher was a reality and it was used by a political party at a public gathering for political gains,” Malik said while addressing the media in Islamabad.

"The government and the armed forces are united in their efforts to defend national sovereignty," Malik stated, reinforcing the administration's stance on safeguarding the nation's interests.

In response to the IHC’s decision, Malik noted that the government would carefully review the detailed judgement before making any further decisions.


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