Pakistan's SC accepts jailed former premier Imran Khan's bail plea; issues notices to FIA, federation

Pakistan's SC accepts jailed former premier Imran Khan's bail plea; issues notices to FIA, federation

Islamabad, Nov 22 (PTI) Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday accepted for hearing the bail plea of jailed former premier Imran Khan in the cipher case and issued notices to the Federation and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), seeking their responses in the matter.

In March 2022, Khan and his foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi were alleged to have violated the secret laws of the country while handling a communication (cipher) sent by Pakistan's embassy in Washington. The diplomatic cable reportedly went missing from Khan's possession.

A three-member bench comprising Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Ayesha A. Malik, and Justice Yahya Afridi declared as admissible the bail petition filed by the 71-year-old Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party chairman through his lawyer Salman Safdar.

At the outset of the hearing, Safdar read out loud the first information report registered against Qureshi and Khan in the case after which Justice Masood inquired how far the matter dated back to and the punishment it carries if a person is found guilty.

It is from 2022, the lawyer replied.

Safdar then briefed the court on the inquiry report and accusations made against the former prime minister in the case.

He added that Khan’s then-principal secretary Azam Khan also accused the PTI chief of misusing the cipher.

Justice Masood then inquired whether the role of the co-accused was determined in the case.

The lawyer stated Azam Khan from being an accused was turned into a witness for the case.

He added that Azam was “kidnapped” and after the “kidnapping” his statement was recorded under Section 164.

“Look, this is how the truth comes out,” said Justice Masood.

On this, Safdar then contended that his client was being politically victimised.

During the hearing, Justice Malik asked the lawyer what was the central ground of his case.

“Our case is that this case is not maintainable,” responded Safdar. The sections included in the FIR against the PTI chief are those that are included in espionage offences.

“It was never mentioned in the investigation where the spying was done or which enemy country benefited out of it,” said Safdar.

To this, Justice Masood observed that the government was contending the accused compromised the code of the cipher.

Justice Afridi then brought up the issue of the cable's secrecy and whether the PTI chief had shown the document to anyone.

Safdar told the court that the cipher was not shown to anyone during this time.

'If the contents of a document are shared while waving it, doesn't it mean making it public?' asked Justice Masood while referring to the first time when the PTI chief revealed the alleged conspiracy in a rally.

The court issued notices to the federal government and the FIA and asked them to respond to the bail petition.

The apex court then adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period.

Earlier, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had rejected Khan's bail application on October 27.

The cipher case is about the allegations that the ousted premier and his foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi violated the secret laws of the country while handling a communication sent by the country’s embassy in Washington in March last year.

The duo was indicted on October 23 and their formal trial has already begun with the recording of statements by witnesses. The IHC had upheld the indictment when challenged by 71-year-old Khan.

However, the IHC on Tuesday declared the jail trial as illegal as the proper procedure was not adopted for it.

It also said notifications issued for conducting the trial in jail were against the law and spoiled the proceedings, including the indictment of the PTI leaders and the testimonies of four witnesses.

A special court was conducting the trial in jail citing security concerns since Khan was indicted on the charges last month. The PTI chairman is currently in Adiala jail after he was indicted by the special court on October 23.

In August this year, Khan and Qureshi were booked under the Official Secrets Act 1923 in the cipher case after the FIA invoked Section 5 of the said law.

The diplomatic cable reportedly went missing from Khan's possession. According to the ousted premier, the cable contained a threat from the US to topple the PTI’s government.

The controversy 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 the PTI government overthrown.

He did not reveal the contents of the letter nor did he mention the name of the nation it came from.

However, a few days later, he accused the US 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 Asad Majeed Khan'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-principal secretary Azam Khan 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. PTI SH PY AKJ PY

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