The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday directed the Special Court hearing the cipher case against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi to conclude proceedings within four weeks.
Dismissing the post-arrest bail plea of Qureshi, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq observed that the charges levelled against the former foreign minister were punishable by death, if proved, adding courts avoid extending the relief of bail in cases where a suspect faces such grave charge.
During proceedings, Qureshi’s counsel argued that nothing on record suggested his client had divulged the contents of the cipher to the public, indicating sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 did not apply to him. He said the prosecution’s case hinged upon the statement of former principal secretary Muhammad Azam Khan, recorded under sections 161 and 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code. He said it was trite law that the statement of a co-accused was insufficient to implicate, or was proof against, other accused persons.
Arguing that the notification of a jail trial for Imran Khan in the cipher case had not named Qureshi, he said proceedings against his client were unlawful in the absence of any formal order.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s special prosecutor, meanwhile, argued that the charge against Qureshi was of aiding, abetting and inciting the principal accused, Imran Khan, and his case also fell under Section 9 of the Official Secrets Act. He said punishment for the referred offense was the same as of the principal offender, i.e. death or life imprisonment. As the trial had already commenced, said the prosecutor, it would be inappropriate for the court to give any finding on merit, as it would prejudice the proceedings.
The prosecutor further noted that Qureshi’s speech on March 27, 2022 clearly showed he had incited as well as aided and abetted the principal accused to divulge the cipher’s contents to the public.
In his ruling, the IHC CJ observed that under Section 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code, any person who abets the commission of an offense is equally liable as a principal offender. “Undoubtedly, bail ought not to be held as punishment but where sentence involved is death or life imprisonment, the court has to proceed with caution; in this regard, the balance is to be maintained that liberty of a person ought not be compromised but gravity of charge or allegation is also to be kept in view,” he stated, while dismissing the petition and directing the Special Court to conclude the trial within four weeks.
The cipher case pertains to a coded document sent by then-ambassador to the U.S. Asad Majeed Khan that the PTI claims “proves” a U.S.-led conspiracy to oust its government through a vote of no-confidence. According to the charges levelled against both Khan and Qureshi, they are accused of communicating the cipher’s contents with “unauthorized” people for political gains, and endangering Pakistan’s national interests.