ISLAMABAD: The ISLAMABAD: Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday clubbed incarcerated Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s separate petitions seeking to stay a trial court’s proceedings in the cipher case and quash the case altogether.
On August 18, the former prime minister was booked under the Official Secrets Act 1923 in the cipher case after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) invoked Section 5 of the said law. The diplomatic cable reportedly went missing from Khan’s possession. According to the former ruling party, the cable contained a threat from the US to topple the PTI’s government.
It is pertinent to mention here that a special court while hearing the cipher case in the Adiala Jail on October 10 announced that the PTI chairman and Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi would be indicted in the cipher case on the 17th of this month.
At the outset of today’s hearing, Sardar Latif Khosa — Khan’s counsel — argued that the matter about the cipher case was in the high court while the Lahore High Court (LHC) has also issued a stay in a case filed by the FIA in this regard. In this situation, he pleaded with the high court to suspend the trial court proceedings and stop it from indicting the former prime minister in the cipher case.
Khosa said that his team repeatedly urged the trial court that the matter should not be decided in haste as the case was already in the high court but it fixed October 17 as a date to indict the former premier in the diplomatic cable case.
“We have a lot of concerns about the Official Secrets (Amendment) Act, 2023,” he argued.
In August, President Arif Alvi had denied signing the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023, claiming that his staff “undermined” his orders.
It is pertinent to mention here that two PTI leaders — Khan and Qureshi — were arrested after a first information report (FIR) was registered against them under the Official Secrets Act for disclosing the contents of the diplomatic cipher for political gains on August 15.
At this, IHC Chief Justice Aamir Farooq asked the PTI’s lawyer if he club the miscellaneous application with the main case.
Agreeing with the judge, Khosa urged the court to fix a date for hearing the case ahead of October 17 as the trail court had set the date for Khan’s indictment. At this, the judge said that he would look into this and would fix a date ahead of October 17.
The controversy first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Khan — less than a month before his ouster in April 2022 — while addressing a public rally waved a letter before the crowd, claiming that it was a cipher from a foreign nation that had conspired with his political rivals to have PTI government overthrown.
He did not reveal the contents of the letter nor did he mention the name of the nation it came from. But a few days later, he accused the United States of conspiring against him and alleged that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu had sought his removal.
The cipher was about former Pakistan ambassador to the US Majeed’s meeting with Lu.
The former prime minister, claiming that he was reading contents from the cipher, said that “all will be forgiven for Pakistan 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 “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan”.
Later, after his removal, then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of the NSC, which came to the conclusion that it had found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cable.
In the two audio leaks that took the internet by storm and shocked the public after these events, the former prime minister, then-federal minister Asad Umar, and then-principle secretary Azam could allegedly be heard discussing the US cipher and how to use it to their advantage.
On September 30, the federal cabinet took notice of the matter and constituted a committee to probe the contents of the audio leaks.
In October, the cabinet gave the green signal to initiate action against the former prime minister and handed over the case to the FIA.
Once the FIA was given the task to probe the matter, it summoned Khan, Umar, and other leaders of the party, but the PTI chief challenged the summons and secured a stay order from the court.
The LHC, in July this year, recalled the stay order against the call-up notice to Khan by the FIA.