Cipher case: Imran, Qureshi’s indictment deferred until next week

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Cipher case: Imran, Qureshi’s indictment deferred until next week. Earlier on Tuesday, a special court established under the Official Secrets Act 2023 deferred the indictment of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and his party’s Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain presided over the hearing at Adiala jail in Rawalpindi, overseeing the proceedings and scheduling the next hearing for the indictment.

Because the accused did not receive copies of the case challans during the previous hearing, the framing of charges against the PTI leaders was put off.

Today, the court distributed copies of the challan to the accused and adjourned the case for a week.

Shah Khawar, the special prosecutor of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), appeared in court, while Khan and Qureshi appeared in prison’s courtroom set-up. 

A court set October 17 (today) as the date for the indictment of both politicians in the case, with the challan already issued on October 9 and copies of it not being shared with them.

According to the special prosecutor, the accused refused to receive a copy of the challan at the previous hearing.

A case trial begins after the charges are framed and the prosecution’s evidence is recorded. Afterward, the court records the testimony and statements of the accused. 

A member of the PTI chief’s legal team, Umair Niazi, told journalists outside the Adiala jail before the hearing that copies had not been provided. 

The court also rejected the prosecution’s Section 14 plea.

There should be media access to the hearing in the jail, he said, adding that this will be discussed today.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC), a day earlier, reserved its verdict on petitions filed by the PTI chief seeking post-arrest bail and quashing of the cipher case.

FIA invoked Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923 on August 18 to book the ousted premier in the cipher case. Imran’s diplomatic cable is alleged to have gone missing. The cable contained a threat by the US to overthrow the PTI government, according to the former ruling party.

Imran is currently in Adiala jail on judicial remand in connection with the cipher case. On August 5, 2023, he was taken into custody after being sentenced to three years in prison in the Toshakhana case. On his request, he was transferred to Adiala jail from Attock jail.

On August 29, the IHC suspended the sentence handed down to the PTI chairman in the Toshakhana case, but he remains behind bars due to his arrest in the cipher case.

On Monday, there will be an indictment hearing

Indictment proceedings will begin next Monday (October 23), FIA prosecutor Khawar told journalists.

Indictments will be filed on October 23. He said that following the indictment, the regular trial of the cipher case would begin.

The court said Khan’s counsel must provide copies of the challan to the accused before an indictment can be filed, Sher Afzal Marwat told journalists outside the Adiala Jail.

The hearing of the case in jail will also be challenged again in court.

Marwat also discussed jail facilities. PTI chairman is kept in a cage-like room and his rights are violated.”

Khan is being implicated in the May 9 incidents, he said.

The charge sheet

FIA, in its challan, stated that the former prime minister and vice-chairman were found guilty in the matter and requested a trial and sentence.

Asad Umar’s name was not added to the list of accused, according to sources. Khan’s former principal secretary Azam Khan was also named as a “strong witness.”

The FIA also attached Azam’s statements, recorded under Sections 161 and 164, to the challan, sources said, adding that the PTI chief misused the cipher.

Khan had a copy of the cipher, but did not return it, according to the sources.

FIA also attached a transcript of Khan and Qureshi’s speech on March 27 – the day the former premier displayed a letter he claimed was a cipher from a foreign nation.

A list of 28 witnesses was also submitted to the court with the challan after the agency recorded their statements under Section 161.

The list of witnesses also includes former foreign secretaries Asad Majeed, Sohail Mehmood, and the then additional foreign secretary Faisal Niaz Tirmizi.

For allegedly misplacing and misusing the classified document for their political ends, the FIA booked PTI’s chief and vice chairman in August.

“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.

After the investigation into the case was completed, both leaders were arrested and a special court was established under the Official Secrets Act to try them.

The ciphergate

During a public rally on March 27, 2022, Khan — less than a month before his ouster in April 2022 — waved a letter in front of the crowd, claiming that it was a letter from a foreign nation that conspired with his political rivals to overthrow the PTI government.

He did not reveal the contents of the letter or the nation it came from. A few days later, he accused the United States of conspiring against him and said Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu was seeking his removal.

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

It will be forgiven for Pakistan if Imran Khan is removed from power, according to the former prime minister, who claimed to be reading the contents of the cipher.

As a result, on March 31, the National Security Committee (NSC) issued a “strong demarche” to the US for its “blatant interference in Pakistani internal affairs”.

Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of the National Security Council after his removal, which concluded that the cable contained no evidence of a foreign conspiracy.

During the two audio leaks that swept the internet and shocked the public after these events, the former prime minister, then-federal minister Asad Umar, and then-principal secretary Azam discussed using the US cipher to their advantage.

The federal cabinet constituted a committee to investigate the audio leaks on September 30.

The cabinet gave the FIA the green light to proceed against the former prime minister in October.

The FIA summoned Khan, Umar, and other leaders of the PTI, but Khan challenged the summons and secured a stay order.

In July, the Lahore High Court (LHC) recalled the stay order against the FIA’s call-up notice to Khan.

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