A Special Court established under the Official Secrets Act on Tuesday sentenced both former prime minister Imran Khan and ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to 10 years in jail in the cipher case.
Announced by Judge Abul Hasnat Zulqarnain at the Adiala Jail in the presence of both Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders, the sentenced can now be appealed in the relevant high court, which the legal counsels of both men have already indicated.
The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s alleges was retained by Khan while he was prime minister and never returned to the Foreign Ministry. The FIA has further alleged that Khan used the classified document for political gains when he declared in a public rally that it contained a threat from the U.S. to oust him as prime minister.
Last week, after the counsels of both Khan and Qureshi failed to appear before court on three consecutive occasions, the judge appointed state defense counsels to conduct cross-examinations of witnesses. Both PTI leaders had rejected this, with Khan declaring the trial a “joke” because the prosecution and defense team were both from the government. Qureshi had likewise grabbed the case file from the state counsel and flung it in the air, demanding he be allowed representation of his own choice.
On Monday, the proceedings lasted well into the night, with the hearing adjourned only after the proceedings were disrupted when Khan and Qureshi lost their temper and started shouting and arguing with the judge.
In Tuesday’s proceedings, Judge Zulqarnain reminded Qureshi and Khan their lawyers were not appearing in court and they had been given state lawyers. He also observed that they were to respond to questions under Section 342 of the Pakistan Penal Code before a verdict could be delivered. To Qureshi maintaining he could not record his statement without his lawyer, the judge noted the law did not require the presence of a lawyer for this process. Khan, meanwhile, recorded his statement and maintained he was not responsible for the “security” of the cipher and had tasked the military secretary to probe it. He claimed the military secretary had informed him he could find no trace of the cipher.
After the sentence was announced, and the judge left the courtroom, Qureshi protested that he was sentenced without recording his statement under Section 342.
Both PTI founder and vice-chairman were indicted twice in the case—pleading not guilty to all charges—with the initial indictment declared invalid by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) after ruling that requirements of jail trial were not fulfilled. The proceedings then started afresh from their position prior to the commencement of the jail trial on Aug. 29.
In December, the Supreme Court approved the post-arrest bails of both Khan and Qureshi, but both remained incarcerated as Khan was under arrest in other cases, while Qureshi was re-arrested in a fresh case related to the May 9 riots. The same month, IHC Justice Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb had restrained the special court from proceeding against the suspects until Jan. 11 over “legal errors” in the case.
Addressing media after the sentencing, PTI leader Gohar Khan said the trial proceeded in haste and the violated the fundamental rights of Khan and Qureshi. He urged all PTI supporters to exercise patience, adding the party fully trusted the high court and Supreme Court to assure justice for the two leaders.
PTI Senator Ali Zafar, meanwhile, told Geo News the trial could not be considered fair and vowed to appeal the decision as soon as the special court’s order was made available to the party. He claimed this was a clear case of a “mistrial” that violated Article 10A of the Constitution and he had no doubt that the conviction would be set aside in appeal.
In a post on X, the official PTI account reiterated allegations of the cipher containing threats to Pakistan from U.S. official Donald Lu to oust Khan from the Prime Minister’s Office. “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,” it said and urged PTI supporters to let their voices be heard during the Feb. 8 election.
“God willing kaptaan and vice kaptaan will be back soon, and this sentence will be in the dustbin in the appeal stage,” it added.