Leak no legal trouble for Imran: lawyers

September 29, 2022

KARACHI: Despite the revelations in Imran’s audio leak regarding the Foreign Office cipher, he will likely escape any real legal issues, lawyers say. However, foreign and public policy experts...

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PTI chief Imran Khan. —File Photo

KARACHI: Despite the revelations in Imran’s audio leak regarding the Foreign Office cipher, he will likely escape any real legal issues, lawyers say. However, foreign and public policy experts feel the leak does prove that the conspiracy narrative was a fabrication and a violation of national interests.

Advocate of the Supreme Court Salman Raja sees “no legal trouble [for Imran Khan]. This isn’t sedition; they [Imran/PTI] were just trying to blow up an event. Yes, it has foreign policy implications and it probably hurt our relations with the US which is a big deal but he was the prime minister at the time and what he says is in bad taste but doesn’t amount to a crime. [What Imran did regarding the cipher] was reckless, immature but it was not criminal”.

Barrister Safi Ghauri too agrees that the audio leak will not have much of a legal consequence for the PTI chief. Explaining it in light of the law on evidence and whether such electronic evidence can be used in court as proof of a crime, Ghauri says that: “Under the Qanoon-e-Shahadat Ordinance Section 164, this would be categorized as secondary evidence. For such evidence to be treated as primary evidence, the courts want either the person who made the recording or the recording device used to record the data as well as full evidence of where the evidence was collected from. [Since that] is never going to happen — no one is stepping forward to say they were secretly recording Imran Khan — this would be inadmissible in court”.

Ghauri explains that even after the Electronic Transactions Ordinance 2002 which said such evidence should be treated as primary evidence, the Supreme Court laid down a framework — in a 2021 verdict — which says that the evidence “needs to be unaltered, not just part of a clip. Plus the person submitting it needs to prove it has in no way been tampered with and also show the source of the evidence. Only then would the court treat this as evidence. So if the PDM were to take this to court, it seems very unlikely for this to proceed further, especially given the fact that we have such little tech support and tech forensics at our disposal”.

Supreme Court lawyer Faisal Chaudhry says: “I don’t see anything legally affecting {imran Khan as a result of the audio leak]. It is nothing substantial. In fact, the audio leak of the PM and his cabinet ministers regarding the piecemeal acceptance is much more serious”.

Looking at the larger picture, Mosharraf Zaidi, columnist and CEO of Tabadlab, however gives a word of caution: “It is extremely unfortunate that important policy debates in this country, both civ-mil and foreign policy, require unconstitutional violations of privacy to actually see the light of day. The only reason this conversation has seen the light of day, both the civ-mil and the foreign policy discussion, is because somebody illegally tapped into somebody’s room or their phone — this is a commentary on the state of civil rights and freedom in Pakistan, and the quality of democratic discourse.

“The leaks also show that the Imran Khan versus establishment fight is not about any kind of policy or principle; it’s about power. All the things Imran and Azam Khan are being accused of — and they can be accused of these because they are clearly violating national interests — the fact is that the people they are competing with have done much the same. While Imran Khan should be judged very harshly, we need to spare some contempt for the wider ecosystem and the people [Imran] is competing for power with — and it’s not the Sharifs”.

Director Jinnah Institute Salman Zaidi says that the Imran audio leak “proves what the entire policy community has known from the outset: it was a fabrication. Unfortunately, the PTI support base is so deeply entrenched in its own disinformation and worldview that this incident will not change thinking about Khan’s machinations in power; on the contrary most supporters will argue in favour of Khan playing politics for the greater cause. It occurs to few that the country is humiliated in the process. Pakistan has reduced bandwidth in international relations owing to poor foreign policy choices during the PTI-led government”.

Zaidi feels that “If the PTI comes back to power with the same outlook and mentality on foreign policy, Pakistan’s relations will undergo greater strain. The PTI government was quick to showcase its many meetings abroad to raise the Kashmir issue, but that did not result in reciprocal statements by friendly countries, more trade, investment or freedom for Kashmiris. The cipher will put the PTI conspiracy theory to rest in circles that matter. But there is the inevitable question of what happens once the PTI is back in parliament to form a government: will the PTI leadership force Pakistan to choose between allies?”

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