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Cipher case: Pakistan's caretaker govt approves jail trial of Imran Khan and his aide Qureshi

Islamabad: Pakistan’s caretaker government on Monday approved the jail trial of former prime minister Imran Khan and his close aide ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in a case against them for allegedly leaking state secrets and violating the laws of the country.

Both Khan, 71, and Qureshi, 67, are currently detained in the Adiala jail on judicial remand.

The case is based on alleged violation of the Official Secrets Act while dealing with a communication by the embassy of the country in Washington in March 2022 and it was launched in August this year by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

The summary for the jail trial of Khan and Qureshi in the Adiala jail due to security concerns was moved by the Ministry of Law and the cabinet gave its assent to it.

The ministry stated in the summary that it had issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) for the jail trial on August 29 which was requested by the Interior Ministry and Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain who is heading the special court hearing the case.

The approval by the court comes as the Islamabad High Court (IHC) is set to hear on November 14 the intra-court appeal filed by Khan against the jail trial.

The attorney general, who is leading the government, will present arguments in the court in favour of jail trial.

Khan’s pleas against the jail trial were rejected by the IHC’s single bench on October 16, which stated that there was no apparent malice behind conducting Khan’s jail trial in the cipher case. Khan had challenged the verdict by filing an intra-court appeal.

Both Khan and Qureshi have been indicted and their formal trial began last month with the recording of statements by the witnesses in the special court which has been hearing the case in the Adiala Jail of Rawalpindi due to security reasons.

Khan has been in the Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi after he was shifted there on September 26 from the District Jail Attock where he was taken after arrest on August 5 following conviction in the Toshakhana case.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman was arrested in August after the cipher case was filed against him.

The purported cipher (secret diplomatic cable) contained an account of a meeting between US State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, and Pakistani envoy Asad Majeed Khan last year.

Khan, who served as prime minister of Pakistan from August 2018 to April 2022, is accused of misusing the contents of the cipher to build a narrative that his government was ousted due to a conspiracy hatched by the US, a charge denied by Washington.

Khan and Qureshi have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on September 30 presented the charge sheet against Khan and Qureshi who signed its copies. The FIA invoked in the charge sheet sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act which may lead to a death sentence, or two to 14 years’ imprisonment if convicted.

Khan was ousted through a vote of no-confidence in April 2022. More than 150 cases have been registered against Khan since his ouster from power.

(Published 13 November 2023, 15:29 IST)

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