A special court, formed to hear the cipher case registered under the Official Secrets Act, on Monday indicted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PT) Chairman Imran Khan and Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi despite efforts by both accused to prevent it.
Earlier, both Khan and Qureshi had moved petitions under Section 265-D (requiring a court to consult police report, complaint, documents and statements filed by the prosecution to frame charges) of the Code of Criminal Procedure to derail the indictment. Rejecting these pleas, Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain observed that the hearing at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail had been designated for indictment proceedings and pushed the process forward.
Under law, once charges have been framed, the court records the evidence of the prosecution and commences the case trial. Subsequently, it records the testimonies and statements of the accused. In line with the procedure, the court issued notices to witnesses to appear on Oct. 27 (Friday) and adjourned the hearing.
Reportedly, both Qureshi and Khan have not guilty to the charges of misusing an official, classified document for political gains.
Last week, the special court deferred the indictment of both PTI leaders to allow time for their counsels to peruse copies of the challan submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Prior to that, both men had refused to accept the challans, arguing that the matter of a court trial was still pending before the Islamabad High Court (IHC). However, the IHC subsequently ruled that its proceedings had no impact on the trial court’s proceedings and it should continue without hindrance.
Both Khan and Qureshi were charged under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act in the cipher case in August after a copy of the diplomatic cable reportedly in possession of the former prime minister went missing. They were subsequently taken into police custody and have been on judicial remand for a little over two months.
Initially, Khan was on judicial remand at Attock Jail, but was subsequently moved to Adiala Jail on a petition filed by his counsels. Qureshi, meanwhile, has been detained at Adiala since being arrested.
According to the FIA’s challan, both the PTI chief and vice-chairman have been found guilty in the cipher case. It has requested the court to conduct their trial and sentence them in the case. It has provided a list of 28 witnesses after recording their statements, including former principal secretary Azam Khan and former ambassador to the U.S. Asad Majeed Khan, maintaining the PTI chief had retained a copy of the cipher and misused state secrets.
As part of its evidence, the FIA has attached the transcript of speeches givens by Khan and Qureshi on March 27, when the former prime minister had brandished a piece of paper at a public rally, claiming it “proved” a foreign conspiracy to oust him from power.
Two subsequent meetings of the National Security Council—one under Khan and the second under then-premier Shehbaz Sharif—subsequently found no evidence of “conspiracy,” and approved the issuance of a demarche against Washington’s “interference” in Pakistan’s affairs. The U.S. has also, repeatedly, denied any conspiracy to oust Khan, maintaining it does not favor any political party in Pakistan over any another.
Last year, two audio leaks went viral on social media in which Khan is heard discussing with his then-principal secretary and then-minister Asad Umar means to use the cipher to the PTI’s political advantage.