ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has declared null and void the jail case against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan on his intra-court appeal in the cipher case.
The Justice Ministry on August 29 issued a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for the prison trial of the former prime minister as requested by the Interior Ministry and Special Court Judge Abul Hasnat Zulqarnain.
A two-judge bench comprising Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb and Justice Saman Riffat Imtiaz announced the verdict on Tuesday, hours after it was reserved earlier in the day.
During the hearing, Justice Aurangzeb said that the detailed order would be issued later.
It appears that after the brief order, the trials that took place in the prison were annulled altogether.
In a hearing on November 14, the Supreme Court stayed Khan’s prison case in the cipher case. The PTI leader is currently lodged in Adiala Jail after being indicted by the special court on October 23.
This order came after the caretaker federal cabinet approved the prison trial of Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the case.
Previously, the ousted prime minister – who was removed from office following a no-confidence motion in April last year – had approached the IHC against the prison case, which was rejected by the single bench of the court on October 16.
The single-member bench of IHC Chairman Aamer Farooq ruled that there was no apparent malice behind conducting Khan’s jail trial in the cipher case. The court also directed him to approach the trial court if concerns persist.
Later, Khan filed a court appeal against the single bench’s decision.
In August this year, Khan and Qureshi were charged under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 in the cipher case after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) invoked Section 5 of the said act.
The diplomatic cable has reportedly gone missing from Imran’s possession. According to the former ruling party, the telegram contained a threat from the United States to overthrow the PTI government.
Both Khan and Qureshi have been charged and are currently detained at Adiala Prison in the cipher case.
Why do prison trials take place?
Former Attorney General of Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf Ali told Geo News that the law stipulates that it is the prerogative of the trial court to decide where to conduct the trial.
In this case, concerns were particularly raised about the safety of the suspect, which is why the decision was made to conduct the trial within the prison premises, he said.
Ausaf said prison trials would not be held just because the trials might cause a stir, nor would they be used to punish a person.
“The reason for this is threefold: security concerns, the security of the witnesses and the records they may bring, and then there are some things that should not be made public, including matters related to national security.”
In that case, he said, people would get more clarity once the order is released.
But, he said, the court did not rule out a prison trial, it simply said that the procedure chosen for the prison trial was not correct.
What is Ciphergate?
The controversy arose on March 27, 2022, when Imran Khan – less than a month before his ouster in April 2022 – waved a letter in front of the crowd at a public rally, claiming it was a cipher from a foreign nation, with whom he conspired his political rivals demanded the fall of the PTI government.
He did not reveal the contents of the letter, nor did he mention the name of the nation from which it came. But a few days later, he accused the United States of conspiring against him and claimed that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu had requested his removal.
The cipher was about former Pakistani ambassador to the US Majeed’s meeting with Lu.
The former prime minister claimed he was reading content from the cipher and said that “Pakistan will be forgiven 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 US for its “flagrant interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.”
Later, after his ouster, then Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called a meeting of the NSC, which concluded that it had found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cable.
In the two audio leaks that took the internet by storm following these events and shocked the public, former Prime Minister, then Federal Minister Asad Umar and then General Secretary Azam Khan were allegedly heard discussing US encryption and its use discussed it to their advantage.
On September 30, the federal cabinet took note of the matter and set up a committee to investigate the content of the audio leaks.
In October, the cabinet gave the green signal to take action against the former prime minister and handed over the case to the FIA.
After getting the order to investigate the matter, the FIA summoned Imran, Asad Umar and other leaders of the party, but the PTI chief challenged the summons and got a stay order from the court.
In July 2023, the Lahore High Court (LHC) revoked the FIA’s stay order against the recall notice to Imran and initiated formal proceedings.
In August, Khan and Qureshi were charged under the Official Secrets Act 1923 in the cipher case after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) invoked Section 5 of the said act.
Khan and Qureshi were indicted by the special court and are currently detained at Adiala Prison in the cipher case.