Imran Khan, Qureshi awarded 10-year jail each in cipher case

PTI to challenge ‘sham trial’ in IHC:  Workers urged to remain calm and peaceful: Barrister Ali Zafar says it’s a mistrial

By News Desk

January 30, 2024 10:16 AM

File photo

A special court in Islamabad has awarded 10-year imprisonment each to PTI founder chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan and party vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi in cipher case, less than two weeks before the general elections,.reported 24NewsHD TV channel.

Special Court judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain pronounced the verdict during proceedings in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi on Tuesday.

Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi were present in the courtroom when the jail verdict was handed down.

The verdict was announced by the special court judge soon after recording the statement of Imran Khan under Section 342 during the hearing on Tuesday, as the court held swift proceedings of the case. The judge's decision was brief and verbal.

The judge asked Imran Khan “Where is the cipher?” To which the former prime minister said “I do not know.” The judge then announced the verdict.

Sentencing of Qureshi was pronounced even without his statement recorded under Section 342.

The court in its verdict said the prosecution had enough evidence to prove the charges against the former prime minister and ex-foreign minister.

Confirming the sentences, a PTI spokesman told AFP: "Former prime minister Imran Khan and vice-chairman Qureshi have been sentenced to 10 years each inside prison in the cipher case."

Imran Khan's sentence was handed down inside Adiala jail, where he has been confined for much of the time since his August arrest and buried under an avalanche of court cases he says have been orchestrated to prevent his return to office.

The cipher case against the both related to allegations they leaked classified state documents. The case pertains to a diplomatic document that the Federal Investigation Agency’s charge sheet alleged was never returned by Imran Khan.

As the proceedings were set into motion on Tuesday, Imran and Qureshi were given a questionnaire under Section 342 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

After Imran recorded his statement, the court asked him about the whereabouts of the cipher, to which he replied: “I have said the same in my statement that I do not know. The cipher was in my office.”

The judge then sentenced the two to 10 years in jail in the case.

After announcing the verdict, the judge then stepped out of the courtroom, at which Qureshi protested that his statement was not recorded.

PTI to challenge ‘sham trial’ in IHC

In a post on social media platform X, an PTI official issued a statement saying that Pakistan stood with Imran and Qureshi “who defended Pakistan and stood for real independence”. “No such sham trial can change what happened in March-April 2022, on the orders of Donald Lu,” the statement added.

“A complete mockery and disregard of the law in the cipher case shall not lead us to forget our primary responsibility in order to provide justice to Imran and Qureshi.”

The PTI urged the public to come out and vote on February 8. “God willing kaptaan and vice kaptaan will be back soon, and this sentence will be thrown in the dustbin in the appeal stage,” the party added.

In his reaction, PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub Khan urged party workers to “remain calm and not indulge in any activity that undermines our traditional stance of a peaceful struggle”. “We will appeal against this decision in the high court and continue our battle,” he said. “The current kangaroo court ruling will not deter us from foregoing this principle come what may,” he added.

Omar Ayub said “We should harness and channel these energies for the polling day on February 8 to ensure that PM Imran Khan’s nominated candidates are returned to the assemblies with a thumping majority.”

“Sham trial. Sham decision. It will be reversed. Don’t fall in their trap. Our vote on February 8 will be our first response,” said PTI’s Taimur Jhagra.

PTI counsel Barrister Ali Zafar told a TV channel that he would file an appeal tomorrow in the Islamabad High Court, calling it a “blessing in disguise”. “The case was going good but in recent days the judge changed everything and this was a mistrial. A criminal trial needs to be a fair trial,” he said.

When asked if 10 years was a long enough punishment for the PTI leaders, Ali Zafar said, “Punishment is handed out when a crime has been committed. There was no crime committed, and no trial held.”

Imran’s second conviction

This is Imran’s second conviction as he was previously convicted in the Toshakhana case on Aug 5, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. The Islamabad High Court (IHC) had suspended his sentence. However, a division bench had later rejected Imran’s petition seeking the suspension of the conviction. On the other hand, this is Qureshi’s first conviction.

'Murder of justice' 

"This is murder of justice," said Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a human right activist and political analyst. "But his popularity among the people will grow in leaps and bounds as his sympathisers will increase because of this gross injustice."

Cipher case background

A case was registered against Imran and Qureshi under Sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923, relating to the “misuse” of alleged contents of a diplomatic cipher, cited by ex-premier Imran as proof of the attempt to remove his government.

It is pertinent to mention that on December 13, a special court established under the Official Secrets Act indicted both of them in the case.

The first information report (FIR) was registered on August 15 under the Official Secrets Act, which was registered on the complaint of the home secretary.

Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi were nominated in the report, while names of former principal secretary Azam Khan and former planning minister Asad Umar were also mentioned.

Appointment of state defence counsels challenged in IHC

Earlier on Tuesday, Imran Khan challenged in Islamabad High Court (IHC) the appointment of state defence counsels in cipher case.

A petition on behalf of the PTI founder chairman was submitted in the IHC, praying the court to strike down the trial court’s January 26 decision.

The high court was also requested to declare as null and void the trial court’s proceedings following the appointment of state defence counsels.

Earlier, PTI senior leader Barrister Gohar Khan had announced that the party will challenge in Islamabad High Court the cipher case proceedings against Imran Khan which is being conducted at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.

In a post uploaded on X platform early Tuesday, Gohar Khan said the case proceedings will be challenged on behalf of the PTI founder chairman.

Gohar said “Today (Monday) in Adiala Jail, I have seen the killing of justice in front of my eyes. In the fake cases against founder chairman Imran Khan, the judicial proceedings are being conducted completely contrary to the requirements of law and justice, although the judges are bound to conduct judicial proceedings in the light of the basic constitutional requirements of a fair hearing, regardless of the nature of the charges in any case.”

The PTI leader further said “It is also the responsibility of the judges to maintain the minimum standard of transparency and justice in the trial. It is a matter of providing justice to the most popular political leader of the country, so the Honorable (IHC) Chief Justice is requested to take notice and arrange for the remedy of the serious deterioration in the matter of fair hearing.”

“However, we will challenge court proceedings before the high court. It is expected from the Chief Justice Islamabad High Court that our application will be fixed for immediate hearing and will be heard with an open heart,” Gohar said and added “As for those people who are busy drawing lines in the name of the most popular leader of the nation, they should remember that Allah, the Most High, will not let them erase the honour of the nation’s most popular leader with His mercy and grace and the unprecedented support of the people of Pakistan. God willing.”

On Monday, the cipher case against Imran Khan and senior PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi had entered the final stage as the court prepared a questionnaire for the accused to record their statements under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

Judge Abul Hasanat Zulqarnain prepared the questionnaire after the cross-examination of all the 25 prosecution witnesses was completed.

During the proceedings inside the Adiala Jail, 11 more witnesses were cross-examined.

During the hearing, Qureshi objected to the state defence counsel, but the judge ordered him to remain silent, warning that otherwise he would be removed from the courtroom. Both accused also expressed their distrust in the judge. However, after hearing arguments, the judge dismissed their plea as inadmissible.

Salman Safdar, the lawyer for the PTI founder, told the judge that it had become difficult for them to cooperate with the court under the current circumstances. He urged the court to exercise caution in handling the case, noting that the IHC had twice declared the trial null and void. Safdar questioned why the court was rushing through the proceedings, expressing sarcasm about the efficiency of the court-appointed state defence counsels, who apparently understood the case and completed cross-examinations of 10 witnesses in just 14 hours, asking a mere four questions each.

He further argued that while the Supreme Court had called for a speedy trial, there was no stipulation that the case must be heard daily. However, the judge countered that when the accused were in jail, daily hearings were permissible.

The judge told the lawyer that there was no objection to the decision of the Supreme Court, adding the apex court had also stated that if there were any obstacles in the case proceedings, the bail of the accused could be cancelled.

Safdar said something must have gone wrong as the IHC had declared the previous hearings null and void. He told the judge that the special court was not paying heed to the orders of IHC and the Supreme Court. He also stressed the law gave the accused the right to have a lawyer of his choice.

If the accused became bankrupt or said that he had no money, only then the accused could be given a defence counsel but in the present case, there was no such situation, Safdar said. Therefore, he added, the appointment of the state defence counsel was wrong.

On the occasion, the PTI founder told the court that state defence counsel did not even consult him, adding when the main witness, Azam Khan, was cross-examined, his lawyers were kept outside the jail. Cross-examination was the only weapon a defence lawyer had, he added.

Prosecutor Rizwan Abbasi argued that the Supreme Court in its decision had called for a speedy trial. He added the court should dismiss the plea of the accused and the cross-examination of the witnesses should be started.

There is a possibility that the PTI would also challenge the Toshakhana case proceedings in the Islamabad High Court.

Reporters: Hashir Ahsan, Babar Shahzad Turk and Ehtisham Kyani

News Desk

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