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Special court throws out Imran, Qureshi’s bail pleas in cipher case

Former prime minister Imran Khan addresses his supporters during an anti-government long march towards Islamabad to demand early elections, in Lahore on October 29, 2022. — AFP
Former prime minister Imran Khan addresses his supporters during an anti-government long march towards Islamabad to demand early elections, in Lahore on October 29, 2022. — AFP

A special court in the federal capital turned down on Thursday petitions seeking Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s release on bail in the missing cipher case.

Earlier, special court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain reserved the verdict after hearing the arguments by counsels representing the PTI leaders, who remain incarcerated in Attock jail.

While announcing the reserved verdict, the court rejected both the post-arrest bail pleas of the PTI leaders.

This was after the same court established under the Official Secrets Act approved PTI leader Asad Umar’s bail in the case related to US cipher after a prosecutor told the judge that his arrest was not required at this stage.

Judge Zulqarnain approved the PTI leader’s bail against the surety bond of Rs50,000 and also noted that Umar expressed willingness to join the cipher probe but the prosecution did not investigate him in the case.

“If Asad Umar’s arrest is required, the FIA [Federal Investigation Agency] will proceed according to law,” the judge ordered.

He also directed the FIA to inform the PTI leader in advance before arresting him in the case.

Last month, the FIA booked PTI chief Khan and the party’s vice chairman Qureshi under the Official Secrets Act for allegedly misplacing and misusing classified document for vested political interests.

“Consequent upon the conclusion of the enquiry No. 111/2023 dated 05.10.2022, registered in the CTW, FIA Islamabad, it transpired that former prime minister namely Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi, former foreign minister namely Shah Mahmood Qureshi and their other associates are involved in communications of information contained in the secret classified document (Cipher Telegram received from Parep. Washington dated 7th March, 2022 to Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to the unauthorised person (i.e. public at large) by twisting the facts to achieve their ulterior motives and personal gains in a manner prejudicial to the interests of state security,” read first information report (FIR) registered against the PTI leaders.

Subsequently, both leaders were arrested in connection with the investigation into the case and a special court was established under the Official Secrets Act to try the accused.

A day earlier, the special court extended Imran and Qureshi’s judicial remand till September 26 in the cipher case.

Cable gate

The controversy first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Khan — just days before his ouster in April 2022 — brandished a letter, claiming that it was a cipher from a foreign nation, which mentioned that his government should be removed from power.

He did not reveal the contents of the letter nor mention the name of the nation that had sent it. But a few days later, he named the United States and said that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu had sought his removal.

The cipher was about former Pakistan ambassador to the US Asad Majeed’s meeting with Lu.

The former prime minister, claiming that he was reading contents from the cipher, said that “all will be forgiven for Pakistan if Imran Khan is removed from power”.

Then on March 31, the National Security Committee (NSC) took up the matter and decided to issue a “strong demarche” to the country for its “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan”.

Later, after his removal, then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif convened another meeting of the NSC, which came to the conclusion that it had found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cipher.

The cipher case against the former premier became serious after his principal secretary Azam Khan stated before a magistrate as well as the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) that the former PM had used the US cipher for his “political gains” and to avert a vote of no-confidence against him.

The former bureaucrat, in his confession, said when he provided the ex-premier with the cipher, he was “euphoric” and termed the language a “US blunder”. The former prime minister, according to Azam, then said that the cable could be used for “creating a narrative against establishment and opposition”.

Azam said the US cipher was used in political gatherings by the PTI chairman, despite his advice to him to avoid such acts. He mentioned that the former prime minister also told him that the cipher could be used to divert the public’s attention towards “foreign involvement” in the opposition’s no-confidence motion. 

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