The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday withdrew its stay order on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan’s in-camera cipher trial after the attorney general for Pakistan (AGP) informed it that witness testimonies will be recorded afresh.
Last month, on a PTI petition challenging the framing of charges and a bar on media coverage, Justice Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb had barred a Special Court formed under the Official Secrets Act from continuing proceedings against Khan and PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi until Jan. 11 after finding “legal errors” in the trial conducted at Adiala Jail.
During today’s hearing, Justice Aurangzeb recalled the court had asked for documents pertaining to the case and asked AGP Mansoor Usman Awan why they had not yet been submitted. The AGP said the case record had arrived and “numbering was taking place,” assuring the court the documents would be submitted shortly.
He reiterated that the trial court had made the proceedings in-camera for a few witnesses pertaining to state secrets, adding certified copies of those statements were present with the petitioners’ lawyers. “The order of this division bench was fully implemented upon,” AGP Awan asserted, adding if the court found the trial court’s decision on a bar on media coverage of the case incorrect, the witnesses’ statements would be recorded again.
Awan urged the court to dispose of the plea against the trial if Khan’s counsel, Salman Akram Raja, agreed to the re-recording of testimonies. To this, Raja said all trial court proceedings from Dec. 14-onward should be set aside. He argued that the trial court had “made the wrong decision” twice. To this, Justice Aurangzeb said everyone makes mistakes. “Let’s begin the case from a new point,” he remarked, referring to past precedent of the Asfandyar Wali case. Raja again contended that the trial proceedings should revert to the point where the “illegal decision” was made.
The judge then recalled the AGP had informed it in the previous hearing that four testimonies were recorded in-camera. “Civil law is quite different from criminal law,” he observed and urged Raja to be cognizant of the other side’s “preferences or constraints.”
The AGP then reiterated that the trial court was ready to rerecord the statements of all 13 witnesses, with the FIA prosecution stating of 25 witnesses in the case, testimonies of 12 still pending.
Subsequently, the IHC reserved its verdict on Khan’s pleas against the trial court and withdrew its stay order on its proceedings, allowing them to start afresh from Dec. 14.
Speaking with media after the hearing, Raja said he would file a petition against Special Court judge Abual Hasnat Mohammad Zulqarnain for “repeatedly making mistakes.” He also reiterated that the trial must be “open” even if it took place in jail. “Everyone should be allowed to attend the trial and the judge should be changed,” he added.
The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that the FIA’s charge sheet alleges was retained by Khan while prime minister and used for political purposes. The PTI maintains it contains “proof” of the United States orchestrating Khan’s ouster as prime minister—allegations multiple meetings of the National Security Council and the U.S. State Department have repeatedly denied.
Both Khan and Qureshi were indicted for a second time on Dec. 13—after earlier proceedings were also set aside by the IHC—and today’s ruling indicates the trial would now start afresh from the point of indictment. Both leaders have pleaded not guilty to all charges.