Monday June 17, 2024

Cipher case: Special court extends Imran, Qureshi judicial remand till Oct 10

Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain conducts the hearing of the case at Attock jail

By Arfa Feroz Zake
September 26, 2023

ISLAMABAD: A special court established under the Official Secrets Act on Tuesday extended the judicial remand of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan and party’s vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi till October 10 in the cipher case.

Special court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain conducted the hearing of the case at Attock jail.

PTI counsels including Barrister Salman Safdar, Latif Khosa, Umer Niazi, and Naeem Panjutha appeared before the court. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team was also present in the court.

On the other hand, Qureshi was brought to the Federal Judicial Complex handcuffed by a FIA team where the court staff marked his attendance.

Later, the court extended his judicial remand till Oct 10.

Last month, the FIA booked the PTI chief and the party’s vice chairman under the Official Secrets Act for allegedly misplacing and misusing classified document for vested political interests.

“Consequent upon the conclusion of the enquiry No. 111/2023 dated 05.10.2022, registered in the CTW, FIA Islamabad, it transpired that former prime minister namely Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi, former foreign minister namely Shah Mahmood Qureshi and their other associates are involved in communications of information contained in the secret classified document (Cipher Telegram received from Parep. Washington dated 7th March, 2022 to Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to the unauthorised person (i.e. public at large) by twisting the facts to achieve their ulterior motives and personal gains in a manner prejudicial to the interests of state security,” read first information report (FIR) registered against the PTI leaders.

Subsequently, both leaders were arrested in connection with the investigation into the case and a special court was established under the Official Secrets Act to try the accused.

Speaking to the media, lawyer Khosa said had the FIA submitted the challan in the court, the PTI chief would have been granted bail today.

He also lamented that the law and Constitution are being violated in the country.

Speaking about the arrest of PTI leaders despite being granted bail by courts, the PTI chief’s counsel said court orders are being violated by the authorities.

“Parvez Elahi has been granted bail many times, but he is still under arrest,” he added.

Polls will be ‘meaningless’, ‘worthless’ sans PTI

During his appearance at the FJC, Qureshi briefly interacted with journalists.

When asked what would happen if the PTI is not allowed to contest elections, the PTI leader said the polls would then be “meaningless” and “worthless”.

He also lamented that the PTI leadership being punished for the crimes they haven’t committed.

“[Our] conscience is content, intentions are clean... [we] are innocent... God can change hearts and overturn decisions,” he said.

“The importance of the polls would end without PTI participating in it,” Qureshi said.

He insisted on the need for transparent elections in the country as the “only solution” to the prevailing issues.

“The country will suffer an irreparable loss if transparent elections are not held,” he said.

The senior politician asserted that people will lose faith in the current democratic system in the absence of free and fair polls.

What is ciphergate?

The controversy first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Khan — less than a month before his ouster in April 2022 — brandished a letter, claiming that it was a cipher from a foreign nation, which mentioned that his government should be removed from power.

He did not reveal the contents of the letter nor mention the name of the nation that had sent it. But a few days later, he named the United States and said that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu had sought his removal.

The cipher was about former Pakistan ambassador to the US Asad Majeed's meeting with Lu.

The former prime minister, claiming that he was reading contents from the cipher, said that "all will be forgiven for Pakistan if Imran Khan is removed from power".

Then on March 31, the National Security Committee (NSC) took up the matter and decided to issue a "strong demarche" to the country for its "blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan".

Later, after his removal, then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of the NSC, which came to the conclusion that it had found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cipher.

In the two audio leaks that took the internet by storm and shocked the public after these events, the former prime minister, then-federal minister Asad Umar, and then-principle secretary Azam could allegedly be heard discussing the US cipher and how to use it in their interest.

On September 30, the federal cabinet took notice of the matter and constituted a committee to probe the contents of the audio leaks.

In October, the cabinet gave the green signal to initiate action against the former prime minister and handed over the case to the FIA.

Once FIA was given the task to probe the matter, it summoned Khan, Umar, and other leaders of the party, but the PTI chief challenged the summons and secured a stay order from the court.

The Lahore High Court (LHC(, in July this year, recalled the stay order against the call-up notice to Khan by the FIA.