Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan and party senior leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi have been sentenced to 10 years each in prison in cipher case.
The case pertains to allegations that the former prime minister had made public contents of a secret cable sent by the country's ambassador in Washington to the government in Islamabad.
It is the second conviction for the embattled PTI founder in recent months. He was previously sentenced to three years in a corruption case. While his jail term was suspended as he challenged the corruption conviction, it had already ruled him out of the general elections next month.
Today's decision was announced verbally by special court judge Abul Hasnat Zulqarnain at the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi in the presence of both the PTI leaders.
The special court has been established under the Official Secrets Act 2023. Judge Zulqarnain has been holding hearings of the case in Adiala Jail since it started last year.
Both politicians had pleaded not guilty to their involvement in the offence related to the alleged misuse of diplomatic cable for political purposes.
Before announcing the verdict, Judge Zulqarnain, during the hearing, reminded the PTI leaders that their lawyers were not appearing in court and were given state lawyers.
The court also observed that Qureshi and Imran were given the questions under 342. However, Qureshi said that his lawyers are not present so how can they record their statement.
The verdict comes a day after the hearing was adjourned when the proceedings were disrupted due to Imran and Qureshi's ruckus in the courtroom.
On Saturday, the judge had decided to appoint state counsel to represent the PTI leaders, as the defence lawyers again failed to appear before the court.
According to the court decision, Malik Abdul Rehman and Hazrat Younus were asked to represent the PTI founding chairman and Qureshi, respectively as the state defence counsel and cross-examine the prosecution witnesses.
In November of last year, after Khan and Qureshi challenged their indictment in the case, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) declared their jail trial “null and void” while allowing their intra-court appeals in the case.
However, the federal cabinet yet again approved the summary of holding the jail trial of both politicians following which the trial continued.
Following this, the special court once again resumed the cipher trial afresh and both the PTI leaders were indicted for a second time in the case on December 13.
On December 22, the Supreme Court granted post-arrest bails to Imran and Qureshi in the case. While Imran remained incarcerated because of his other case, Qureshi was arrested against after his release in a fresh case.
Following this, IHC's Justice Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb stayed the the special court from proceeding against the suspects till Jan 11.
On Janaury 11, the IHC set aside the orders of an in-camera trial and declared all proceedings after December 14, 2023, invalid.
Later, the stay order was withdrawn after the state counsel assured that the witnesses’ statements would be recorded again.
As soon as the verdict was announced, Khan’s successor Barrister Gohar Ali Khan urged party workers to remain calm and urged them not to take the law into their hands over the verdict.
“An effort is being made to shift our focus from the elections, everyone will be held accountable on February 8,” Gohar told journalists at the Islamabad High Court.
Talking about the case, Gohar said cases against the PTI chief are being conducted without taking into account the Constitution and law. He added that the judge hearing the case was asking questions on his own.
The PTI leader also hinted that they would appeal the verdict, saying that the party has faith in the IHC and Supreme Court.
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.
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