October 24, 2023
ISLAMABAD – A special court established under the Official Secrets Act on Monday indicted former prime minister Imran Khan and ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi 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. The IHC had suspended his sentence on Augusy 29 but he remained in jail because he was on judicial remand in the cipher case.
On September 30, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had submitted a challan — a charge sheet — in the special court naming Qureshi as the principal accused in the cipher case.
Today, Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain conducted the hearing at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail. The court formally commenced the trial in the case and summoned the witnesses at the next hearing on Oct 27.
The charge sheet read out by Judge Hasnat, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, stated that Imran “illegally retained and wrongly communicated” the cipher.
“The said information/cipher was relating to top secret information which were inter-se two states i.e., United States and Pakistan,” it said.
According to the charge sheet, the PTI chief, while holding the office of the prime minister, used the cipher in a “prohibited place (jalsa)” and “willfully communicated” the secret information to unauthorised persons, which was against the “interest of the State of Pakistan”.
“The cipher was entrusted to you in confidence by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [but] you used the document while keeping it in your possession for the benefit of your personal political designs and compromised the cipher and the security system of Pakistan,” it reads.
The charge sheet further stated that Imran conspired to “misuse the contents of the cipher” at a meeting in his Bani Gala residence on March 28, 2022. It added that Imran kept the cipher in his possession and never returned it to the foreign ministry.
The charge sheet added that Qureshi “aided and abetted” Imran and therefore was liable for the act in the same manner.
Earlier, speaking to the media outside Adiala, FIA Special Prosecutor Shah Khawar said the two PTI leaders were present during the announcement of the indictment, adding that further proceedings had been put off till Oct 27 when the witnesses would be produced.
PTI to challenge indictment in high court
Meanwhile, the PTI chairman’s lawyer, Advocate Umair Niazi, told the media that his client had denied the crime. He said the court’s order would be challenged in the high court.
He said that Imran had questioned the charges against him. The lawyer quoted the PTI chairman as saying that a conspiracy was hatched against him, his government was toppled and there were no minutes of the meeting in question.
He said that Imran was already aware of the “London plan”, the aim of which was to “bulldoze” the PTI. “Nawaz Sharif plays by colluding with the umpire. He cannot contest elections until he has an umpire of his choice,” the lawyer said.
The lawyer said that according to Imran, “If a big thief is to be released, then the accused in Adiala jail should also be released”.
Speaking to reporters, Advocate Usman Riaz Gul, also a member of Imran’s legal team, said they informed the court that even though the indictment date was fixed, the suspects could not be indicted until the complete statement of witnesses and case memo were received.
He added that the court rejected the defendants’ objections and indicted Imran and Qureshi.
“PTI chairman and Qureshi had stated that they could not respond to the charges until all the documents related to the case were received,” the lawyer said.
The lawyer further said the PTI chairman’s request for a bicycle for exercise in Adiala Jail was approved.
“Special Court Judge Abul Hasnat Zulqarnain directed the jail administration to provide bicycles in the jail,” he added.
According to the FIR, a case under sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 r/w 34 PPC has been registered against the former premier and former foreign minister.
They have been accused of wrongful communication/ use of official secret information and illegal retention of cipher telegram (official secret document) with mala fide intention, whereas the role of the former PM’s aide Muhammad Azam Khan, former federal minister Asad Umar and other associates involved will be ascertained during the course of investigations.
It said Imran, Qureshi and their other associates are involved in the communication of information contained in secret classified document (cipher telegram received from Parep Washington dated March 7, 2022 to Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to the unauthorised persons (i.e. public at large) by twisting facts to achieve their ulterior motives and personal gains in a manner prejudicial to the interests of state security.
They held a “clandestine meeting” at Banigala on March 28, 2022 to conspire to misuse the contents of cipher in order to accomplish their “nefarious designs”, it alleged.
The accused, Imran, with mala fide directed the former principal secretary Azam Khan to prepare the minutes of said clandestine meeting by manipulating the contents of cipher message to use it for his vested interest at the cost of national safety.
Moreover, the numbered and accountable copy of cipher telegram sent to the PM Office was deliberately kept in his custody by the former PM with mala fide intention, and was never returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The said cipher telegram (official secret document classified as such) is still in the illegal possession/retention of the accused Imran.
The unauthorised retention and misuse of the cipher telegram by the accused persons compromised the entire cipher security system of the state and the secret communication method of Pakistani missions abroad.