A Special Court formed under the Official Secrets Act on Tuesday deferred until next week the indictment of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the cipher case.
As the hearing commenced at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail—where both Khan and Qureshi are detained as under-trial prisoners—the court provided copies of challans submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to the accused. Special Court judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain then scheduled the indictment proceedings for next week, noting the accused’s lawyers had refused to receive the copies of the challan during the last hearing.
During the last hearing, on Oct. 9, the court had shared copies of the challans against the PTI leaders with their lawyers, and announced they would be indicted on Oct. 17 (today). However, the PTI leaders’ lawyers had refused to receive it on instructions of Khan, arguing that the matter was still pending before the Islamabad High Court (IHC). The indictment process is necessary to proceed toward the case trial, as evidence, testimonies and statements are only recorded after it.
Speaking with journalists outside Adiala jail before the hearing, PTI spokesman Umair Niazi claimed the copies of the challans were not provided in the previous hearing; ignoring that it was the PTI that had refused to accept the challans. He also reiterated the PTI’s demand for an open trial, saying the hearing should not be conducted in-camera. A day earlier, the IHC rejected a plea by the PTI for a court trial, ruling a jail trial was “in favor” of the PTI chief owing to his security concerns.
According to the FIR submitted by the FIA, a case has been lodged against Khan and Qureshi under sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act. It accuses them of wrongful communication/use of official secret information and illegal retention of cipher telegram with mala fide intention. It further states that the roles of former principal secretary Muhammad Azam Khan; former minister Asad Umar; and others would be ascertained during the course of investigations.
It maintains that Khan, Qureshi and their associates had communicated the contents of a classified document with unauthorized persons—the general public—by twisting facts to achieve their ulterior motives and personal gains in a manner prejudicial to the interests of state security. It also refers to a “secret” meeting presided over by Khan at his Banigala residence on March 28, 2022 in which he conspired to misuse the contents of the cipher for political gains.
The FIA further contends Khan illegally retained the cipher, adding it is still in the illegal retention of the accused, compromising the secret communication method of Pakistani missions abroad.
A day earlier, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had reserved judgement on the PTI chief’s pleas for post-arrest bail and the cancellation of a FIR registered against him in the cipher case. During proceedings, Khan’s counsel Sardar Latif Khosa argued that a case could not be registered against his client because the diplomatic document in question had been declassified by Khan while he was prime minister. He further claimed Khan enjoyed immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, another of Khan’s counsels, Salman Safdar, argued that Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act was not applicable in the cipher case as it referred to sharing sensitive information with foreigners, which was not one of the charges in the FIR against Khan. “This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that an ex-prime minister and foreign minister are being tried under this act,” he said.
The prosecution, meanwhile, argued that the FIR could not be dismissed, as Khan had already admitted to misplacing the cipher and had also failed to deny the allegations of sharing sensitive information with unauthorized persons. He said the cipher was entrusted to the Office of the Prime Minister, of which Khan had “wrongfully communicated the contents for vested interest.”
The prosecutor also maintained that there was “nothing on record” to prove Khosa’s claims of Khan declassifying the cipher prior to being ousted through a vote of no-confidence. He said that as the Foreign Office had classified the document, it was the only authority that could declassify it.