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Tuesday March 05, 2024

Imran, Qureshi sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour in cipher case

Court conducted a swift hearing of matter despite delaying tactics used by defence

January 31, 2024
Pakistan´s Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (R) attend the opening of a special meeting of the 57-member OIC in Islamabad on December 19, 2021. — AFP
Pakistan´s Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (R) attend the opening of a special meeting of the 57-member OIC in Islamabad on December 19, 2021. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister and PTI founding leader Imran Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi were Tuesday sentenced to 10-year rigorous imprisonment each in the cipher case. The verdict comes nine days before the February 8 general elections.

Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Muhammad Zulqarnain announced the short verbal verdict at the Adiala Jail soon after recording the statements of the two accused.

The court conducted a swift hearing of the matter despite the delaying tactics used by the defence.

The judge asked Imran — the main accused — to answer as to where the cipher was.

Imran replied he did not know, adding the document was in his office. He said the security of the Prime Minister’s House (PMO) rested with the military secretary, principal secretary and secretary protocol adding that cipher was the only document in his three and a half years stint in power that went missing.

He said the military secretary should be grilled adding that it was the only occasion when he expressed his displeasure with him.

Imran charged that one of his ADCs stole the cipher at the behest of ex-COAS General Bajwa. He said the military secretary told him that the investigation into the missing document had not found any clue.

“An elected prime minister was removed through a conspiracy. The then army chief Gen Bajwa and US Secretary of State Donald Lu were part of the conspiracy that was hatched in October 2021 when General Bajwa replaced General Faiz Hameed. All this became possible through a collusion between General Bajwa and Shehbaz Sharif because the latter had promised extension to Bajwa. Husain Haqqani was paid USD35,000 to lobby for Gen Bajwa,” he added.

Meanwhile, the two convicts still have two forums available — the high court and apex court – to file an appeal. However, this process could at least take months, if not years, to complete.

On the other hand, the PTI moved the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the morning to challenge the appointment of state defence counsel for the two accused, requesting that the special court’s Jan 26 order be declared null and void.

Earlier on Monday, a lengthy hearing was held during which the cross-examination of 11 witnesses was completed. A total of 25 witnesses were presented before the court.

Prominent among those cross-examined included former foreign secretary Sohail Mehmood, former principal secretary to the PM Azam Khan, former interior secretary Yusuf Naseem Khokhar, interior secretary Aftab Akbar Durrani and former ambassador to the United States Asad Majeed.

Earlier in the day, the case proceedings were again disrupted, as the two accused got angry and started shouting.

As the situation worsened, the special court judge opted for a temporary break after which the hearing resumed.

Qureshi objected to the state-appointed defence counsel during cross-examination, expressing difficulty attending the court in the current situation.

PTI lawyer Salman Safdar said the Islamabad High Court had deemed the trial invalid but the case continued in the court for the third time.

This was Imran’s second conviction, as earlier on August 5, he was convicted in the Toshakhana case and sentenced to three-year imprisonment.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) had suspended his sentence. However, a division bench later rejected Imran’s petition seeking suspension of his conviction. However, this was Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s first conviction in his political career spanning decades.

After announcing the verdict, the judge stepped out of the courtroom, at which Qureshi protested that his statement had not been recorded.

Meanwhile, in its handle on X, the PTI issued a statement saying Pakistan stood with Imran and Qureshi “who defended Pakistan and stood for haqeeqi azadi”.

“No such sham trial can change what happened in March-April 2022, on the orders of Donald Lu,” the statement added.

“A complete mockery and disregard of the law in the cipher case shall not lead us to forget our primary responsibility in order to provide justice to Imran and Qureshi,” said the statement, urging the public to come out and vote on February 8.

“God willing kaptaan and vice kaptaan will be back soon, and this sentence will be (thrown) in the dustbin in the appeal stage,” it concluded.

PTI leader Gohar Khan said the special court judge had announced the verdict in haste and the proceedings were not conducted in accordance with the law and the Constitution.

Speaking to the media outside the Islamabad High Court, he said, “The way our witness was cross-examined, you cannot find any such example in history.”

He requested all the “well-wishers” of the country to show patience and avoid reacting to the verdict in any capacity.

“We trust the high and Supreme Court. At the end of the day, we will eventually get relief. Even if they convict us, it would be quashed. Do not get angry and don’t take the law into your own hands. You do not have to throw a single stone… you should show patience,” he said.

Speaking to the media, Imran’s sister Aleema Khan alleged that someone was “instructing” the judge.

She said as the cross-examination of witnesses was set to begin, “the names of others started coming forward, including Donald Lu, who sent the message (cipher), and General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who received it.”

Aleema said the sentence was given due to the fear of Lu, the US State Department official, and ex-army chief Gen Bajwa being summoned for cross-examination.

She urged “100 percent” of voters to voice their opinion in the upcoming general elections, saying there would be “no better revenge” than that.

PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub Khan urged the party workers to “remain calm and avoid indulging in any activity that undermined the traditional stance of a peaceful struggle”.

“We will appeal against this decision in the high court and continue our battle. The current kangaroo court ruling will not deter us from foregoing this principle come what may,” he added.

“We should harness and channel these energies for the polling day on February 8 to ensure that PM Imran Khan’s nominated candidates are returned to the assemblies by a thumping majority,” he said.

“Sham trial. Sham decision! It will be reversed. Don’t fall in their trap. Our vote on February 8 will be our first response,” said PTI’s Taimur Jhagra.

National Assembly ex-speaker Asad Qaiser termed the court decision “extremely painful” and “controversial”, adding that the legal requirements of the case had not been met.

PTI counsel Barrister Ali Zafar termed the verdict a “blessing in disguise” and said he would file an appeal with the Islamabad High Court.

PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah said there was no debate that the cipher was a classified document, claiming that Imran had used the document for political purposes. He said the punishment was completely justified and given through the legal means.

In a press conference later, PMLN leader and former law minister Azam Nazir Tarar said Imran “used a classified document to save his government” and “made a joke out of the Official Secrets Act”.

“Without worrying about the country’s foreign affairs, he used the document to dissolve the National Assembly which was later overturned by the Supreme Court,” he recalled.

Meanwhile, PMLN leader Attaullah Tarar said the cipher matter was “clear from day one”, alleging that national security of the country was put on the line to gain political mileage. He said the punishment was according to the law and no one had the right to violate the Official Secrets Act.