The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday said its proceedings into various petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan have no impact on the special court trial in the cipher case, as it separately clubbed together all petitions related to the case for hearing next week.
Hearing a bail petition filed by Khan against his ongoing incarceration at Adiala Jail in the cipher case, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq emphasized pendency of any matter in the higher court had no effect on its trial in a subordinate court. “Pendency of petition means nothing, trial to be governed by the trial court,” he observed the chief justice, noting the IHC had not issued any “injunctive order” to halt the trial.
During proceedings, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s special prosecutor, Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Naqvi, argued that Khan was creating hurdles in the trial proceedings by refusing to accept copies of the challan. He further said the defense counsel had justified its actions by claiming petitions related to the trial were pending before the IHC.
Khan’s counsel Salman Safdar, meanwhile, argued against the FIA challan citing Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act, claiming it could only be invoked for sharing sensitive information with foreigners, which was not stated in the FIR. He further argued that the Official Secrets Act was restricted to the “armed forces and could be invoked for sharing information with enemy state.” He also maintained that suspects under this law had previously been tried by military courts, adding Khan had the authority to retain the cipher during his time as prime minister. He also alleged that the prosecution had “forced” some people like former principal secretary Azam Khan to testify against Imran Khan.
Referring to a National Security Committee (NSC) that had recommended issuing a demarche over the cipher, he questioned why the case was filed nearly a year after the matter of the missing cipher was taken up by then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and his cabinet. To questions by Justice Farooq about the minutes of the meetings on the cipher issue, the PTI counsel said he was referring to the press releases issued by the National Security Committee.
The CJ remarked that press releases were not the same as minutes of meetings, with the special prosecutor noting no minutes were never made public.
Responding to the PTI counsel’s arguments, special prosecutor Raja Rizwan Abbasi maintained both Khan and PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi were subject to the Official Secrets Act. Acknowledging that suspects under this law had been tried by military courts in the past, he said the PTI chief should clarify if he wished for a court martial rather than a court trial.
The proceedings were then adjourned until Oct. 16 when the prosecution would continue its arguments.
Also on Thursday, the IHC clubbed petitions filed by the PTI chief seeking a stay on the cipher case proceedings, and the quashing of the case entirely.
Khan’s counsel Sardar Latif Khosa argued that the petition against the cipher case was pending before the IHC, while the Lahore High Court (LHC) has also issued a stay in a case filed by the FIA in this regard. In light of this, he said, the IHC should suspend the trial court proceedings and stop it from indicting the former prime minister in the cipher case. The LHC, in July, had recalled its stay order in the case.
Khosa argued that Khan’s counsel has urged the trial court to not act in haste but it had fixed Oct. 17 as a date to indict the former premier in the case. “We have a lot of concerns about the Official Secrets (Amendment) Act, 2023,” he argued. At this, the IHC CJ asked if the PTI wished for the miscellaneous application to be clubbed with the main case.
While Khosa assented, he urged the CJ to fix the hearing before Oct. 17. The judge remarked that he would look into this and would fix a date ahead of the date.
On Aug. 18, Khan and Qureshi were booked under the Official Secrets Act in the cipher case over a copy of the diplomatic cable going missing from Khan’s possession. The PTI claims the cipher “proves” a foreign conspiracy to oust its government, though two separate meetings of the NSC and the U.S. have denied this.