The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday reserved its verdict on PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s petition seeking bail in the cipher case.
The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that reportedly went missing from Imran’s possession. The PTI alleges that the document contained a threat from the United States to oust Imran from office.
The PTI chief was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison in the Toshakhana graft case on August 5, 2023. He was subsequently shifted to Attock jail, but the IHC later suspended his sentence. However, Khan remained in jail because he was on judicial remand in the cipher case.
On September 30, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) submitted a challan —a charge sheet — in the Special Court established under the Official Secrets Act, naming the former prime minister and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as the principal accused in the cipher case.
Imran has filed several petitions in the IHC, including two seeking to stay his jail trial and bail in the cipher case, another seeking to suspend the Toshakhana verdict, and a third against his indictment in the cipher case, which is set for October 17.
Today, the IHC resumed hearing arguments on the PTI chief’s plea seeking bail in the case. During the proceedings, Special Prosecutor Raja Rizwan Abbasi presented his arguments.
At the outset, he said the federal government had approved the filing of the complaint against Imran through the interior secretary.
According to Abbasi, there were two categories of cases in the Official Secrets Act: one that included punishment for or less than 10 years (bailable) and the other that had a prison sentence that exceeded 10 years (non-bailable). He said Imran was charged under the latter category.
Here, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq asked if information in the cipher could not be communicated further. “In one category you can, but not in the other,” the prosecutor replied.
“This cipher was top secret and hence could not be shared,” he contended, claiming that the petitioner’s lawyer did not provide the correct interpretation or definition of Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act — which talks about “wrongful communication of information”.
“The PTI chairman disclosed the information in the cipher to the public when he was not authorised to do so,” Abbasi said.
Meanwhile, the IHC CJ asked if there were any rules of practice or SOPs pertaining to a cipher.
“The document has two categories of which one can be communicated while the other cannot be disclosed,” the prosecutor replied. “This cipher falls under the second category.”
He added that as the prime minister, Imran was not exempted from Article 248 (Protection for president, minister or governor) of the Constitution. “In the cipher case, the PTI chief can either be sentenced to life imprisonment or death,” Abbasi said.
He then listed the former officials whose statements were on record, adding that Azam Khan — principal secretary to Imran during his premiership — was a witness in the case. Abbasi went on to say that his primary witnesses in the case were Azam, Asad Majeed and Sohail Mehmood.
Meanwhile, Justice Farooq said he wanted to understand the chain through which a cipher is sent and received, to which Abbasi said the chain was written in the statements.
“It is evident in the witnesses’ statement that this was a secret classified document and such documents are not circulated,” the prosecutor argued and then gave examples of similar cases from neighbouring India.
“The challan has been submitted … what will you do keeping Imran under arrest?” the IHC CJ asked.
However, Abbasi contended: “Surely someone will benefit if Pakistan’s relations with superpower America are being affected by someone’s statement.”
He added that cipher was a document that couldn’t even be shared with friends or family.
IHC directs Imran to approach special court against jail trial
Earlier in the day, the IHC disposed of Imran’s plea against the holding of the cipher case trial in Adiala Jail and directed the PTI chief to approach the special court — established under the Official Secrets Act — instead for the same.
Justice Farooq announced the reserved verdict today.
The verdict stated that the jail trial was “in favour” of the former premier keeping in mind security-related matters. “There is no ill will apparent on the matter of jail trial,” it observed.
The order recalled that Imran had voiced his reservations relating to his security “numerous times”. “If the PTI chairman has reservations about the jail trial, he may approach the trial court,” the order stated.