close
Wednesday June 19, 2024

Special court adjourns cipher case hearing till Oct 9 after PTI objects to in-camera trial

PTI's legal team implored judge to put off hearing until IHC decides on matter

By Shabbir Dar
October 04, 2023
Former prime minister Imran Khan addresses his supporters during an anti-government long march towards Islamabad to demand early elections, in Lahore on October 29, 2022. — AFP
Former prime minister Imran Khan addresses his supporters during an anti-government long march towards Islamabad to demand early elections, in Lahore on October 29, 2022. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: A special court, established under the Official Secrets Act, on Wednesday adjourned a hearing of the cipher case pursued against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi till October 9 without proceedings. 

Special court Judge Abul Hasnat Zulqarnain presided over the proceedings in Adiala jail in line with the notification of the Ministry of Law.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team, and the special prosecutor appeared before the court.

A 12-member PTI leader team including Barrister Salman Safdar, Sardar Latif Khosa, Raja Yasir, Naeem Haider Panjutha, Barrister Umair Khan Niazi, Chaudhary Khalid Yusuf, Niazullah Khan Niazi, Rai Muhammad Ali and others were allowed to attend the hearing in Adiala jail.

The PTI lawyers raised objections to the hearing of the case in Adiala jail and implored the court to put off the hearing until the Islamabad High Court (IHC) decides on its plea challenging the in-camera trial of their clients.

The IHC on Monday reserved verdict on the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) plea for an in-camera hearing on the PTI chief’s bail application in the cipher case.

The FIA had stated in its plea that an open court hearing could harm Pakistan's diplomatic ties with other states if the matter is discussed publicly.

The PTI legal team also refused to receive a copy of FIA challan (charge sheet), submitted to the court last week, in today’s hearing.

The PTI chief was also produced in the courtroom. Both the PTI leaders are on judicial remand till October 10 in the cipher case.

A heavy contingent of police was deployed outside the Rawalpindi prison.

Charge sheet

The FIA, in its challan, stated that the former prime minister and the vice-chairman were found guilty in the matter and requested the court to conduct their trial and sentence them in the case.

According to the sources, former PTI secretary-general Asad Umar's name was not added to the list of accused. Meanwhile, Khan's former principal secretary Azam Khan was also named as a "strong witness" in the case.

The FIA also attached Azam's statements, recorded under Sections 161 and 164, along with the challan, said the sources, adding that the PTI chief kept the cipher to himself and misused the state secret.

The sources also said that Khan had a copy of the cipher but he did not return it.

Moreover, the FIA also attached the transcript of Khan and Qureshi's speech on March 27 — the day when the former premier brandished a letter claiming it was a cipher from a foreign nation, that wanted his government to be removed from power.

The agency also submitted a list of 28 witnesses to the court with the challan after recording their statements under Section 161.

Sources further revealed that the names of former foreign secretaries Asad Majeed, Sohail Mehmood, and the then additional foreign secretary Faisal Niaz Tirmizi have also been added to the list of witnesses.

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

Ciphergate

The controversy first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Khan — less than a month before his ouster in April 2022 — while addressing a public rally waved a letter before the crowd, claiming that it was a cipher from a foreign nation that had conspired with his political rivals to have PTI government overthrown.

He did not reveal the contents of the letter nor did he mention the name of the nation it came from. But a few days later, he accused the United States of conspiring against him and alleged 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 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 US 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 cable.

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 to their advantage.

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.