Monday December 04, 2023

Cipher case: Open court trial may harm Pakistan’s ties with other states, FIA tell IHC

IHC reserves decision on FIA's plea for an in-camera hearing on Imran Khan’s bail plea; IHC also restores PTI chief's bails in 9 cases

October 02, 2023
A billboard pointing towards the Islamabad High Court. — Geo News/File
A billboard pointing towards the Islamabad High Court. — Geo News/File

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Monday urged the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to hold an in-camera hearing of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s bail plea in the cipher case, fearing that an open court trial could harm the country’s ties with other states.

FIA Special Prosecutor Shah Khawar made the appeal after the court met following a short break.

Before the break, the IHC decided to hear the FIA’s plea for an in-camera hearing along with the PTI chief’s petition for bail.

“Let's hear the application for in-camera proceedings along with the main application for bail,” observed the court when it took up the petition.

Once the court met after the break, the IHC CJ inquired if the bail plea could be heard in-camera.

However, Khawar told the court that under the Official Secrets Act, a trial cannot be made public, adding that they would move a similar plea in the trial court.

“There are some statements and information that cannot be made public,” said the lawyer. He added that they also have to place statements related to other countries before the court.

“Sharing such information in an open court can affect Pakistan's diplomatic ties with other countries,” said Khawar.

At this, IHC CJ Farooq observed that when the court would write its verdict on the bail plea it would be made public so why should the hearing be held in-camera?

How is a cipher handled once it is received by FO 

Then, the court asked about the SOPs for handling a cipher.

To the court’s query, Additional Attorney General Munawar Iqbal Dogal briefed the bench on the matter.

While adding to this, Khawar stated that a cipher is sent by a Pakistan embassy in a coded form and it is de-coded at the Foreign Office.

Then a copy is sent each to the president, prime minister, army chief and director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, he explained, adding that after it is seen by all the relevant offices, the copies are sent back to the Foreign Office where these are discarded.

“Only the real cipher stays at the Foreign Office,” added Khawar.

“Are all the codes [for a cipher] universal,” asked IHC CJ.

At this, AAG Dogal said every country has a different coded message.

“How does the cipher come?” asked IHC CJ Farooq.

Khawar informed the court that it comes in a coded form via email or fax.

PTI chief's lawyer opposes in-camera hearing

Meanwhile, the PTI chief’s lawyer, Salman Safdar, opposed the FIA’s plea for an in-camera hearing. In his arguments, he contended that they had stated in the last hearing that they were okay with barring irrelevant people from the court.

“During my nine years [as a justice] I have not heard any case in-camera. I must have done one or two in-camera hearings on missing persons case,” remarked the IHC CJ.

Moving on, Safdar further argued that the FIA never moved such a plea when they argued the case in the trial court.

He also added that if there was any sensitive information in the case then it could be discussed in the chamber or it could be given in writing by the prosecution.

The PTI chief’s lawyer further added that were expecting live coverage of the case.

At this point, the IHC CJ informed the lawyer that a committee is tasked to prepare guidelines for the live streaming of court proceedings.

“There is concern that sensitive information will be made public if the case is heard in an open court,” AAG Dogal intervened.

The IHC then reserved the verdict and CJ Farooq stated that they would announce a new date for the hearing.

Last week, the IHC had ruled that the hearing on the PTI chief’s bail plea in the cipher case will take place in an open court.

IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq had stated this in a two-page written order in response to the prosecution's verbal request for in-camera proceedings.

The FIA had initially sought closed-door hearings, citing the presence of "privileged" and "sensitive" documents and information.

The court had, consequently, instructed the FIA prosecutors to submit a separate petition for in-camera proceedings during the upcoming hearing.

Following this, the FIA, a day earlier, moved a formal petition for an in-camera hearing.

IHC restores Imran Khan's bail pleas in 9 cases

Meanwhile, the high court granted relief to the PTI chairman and declared orders of trial courts cancelling Khan’s bail in 9 cases as “null and void”.

Khan’s bail pleas were cancelled for not showing up before the court after he was arrested in the Toshakhana case on August 5.

The verdict was announced by a two-member bench, comprising IHC CJ Aamer Farooq and Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, that had earlier reserved its decision.

The trial courts had dismissed the PTI chief’s pleas for seeking bail for not showing up in nine different cases. The PTI chief then moved the high court.

Khan had contended in the pleas that the authorities should be barred from arresting him in these nine cases till a final decision is not given. He also stated that the courts should be instructed to decide the nine cases on merit.

According to the petition, three of these cases are related to the May 9 incidents, three pertained to the protest in Islamabad, one each related to the Toshakhana case, violation of Section 144 and attempt to murder.