ISLAMABAD: On Friday, the Supreme Court granted post-arrest bail to former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan and the party’s Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the cipher case.
The bail was approved against surety bonds of Rs1 million each.
A panel of three judges, led by interim Chief Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Athar Minallah, presided over the hearing.
Both politicians have asserted their innocence, pleading not guilty to allegations of their involvement in the offense concerning the purported misuse of diplomatic cables for political purposes.
In today’s court proceedings, the highest court also addressed the petition challenging the October 23 indictment of Imran Khan and Qureshi.
Justice Masood Lahore high Court
At the beginning of the hearing, Justice Masood noted that the IHC had already invalidated the indictment on November 21.
Consequently, the October 23 indictments of Imran Khan and Qureshi in the case were also rendered null and void, leading to a retrial.
In response, the counsel for the former Prime Minister, Hamid Khan, contended that the trial was proceeding based on the prior charge sheet.
High Court Lawyer
Justice Masood observed that the petition against the outdated charge sheet had become irrelevant. The judge advised the lawyer, “If you have objections to the new indictment, address them in the high court
In response, Hamid requested the court to wait for today’s decision from the IHC regarding the in-camera trial in the Imran Khan cipher case.
Barrister Salman Safdar, another counsel for Imran Khan, mentioned that Hamid had modified his petitions, urging the court to consider them fresh. Following this, the court adjourned the hearing on the plea challenging the indictment and proceeded with the bail petitions.
Arguing against the bail petitions, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) prosecutor pointed out that notice had not been issued for Qureshi’s bail plea. Subsequently, the court stated the federation regarding Qureshi’s bail petition.
Justice Shah noted that the indictment in the cipher case on December 13 has not been contested.
The counsel informed the bench that the FIA stayed silent on the case for seven months and only arrested the PTI leader, Imran Khan, immediately after he was granted bail in the Toshakhana case.
Based on the prosecution’s claims, Barrister Safdar stated that the FIA initiated an inquiry following the federal government’s directives after the audio leak.
The allegations suggested that during the meeting on March 28, 2022, at Bani Gala, a conspiracy was devised to misuse the Imran Khan cipher.
He added that the FIA accused the former premier of retaining and not returning the cipher’s copy. “The FIR lists four names, but the FIA only investigates two individuals. Asad Umar and Azam Khan were also supposed to be investigated,” he stated.
Justice Minallah inquired about how the FIA obtained information regarding the Bani Gala meeting. Barrister Safdar responded, “The FIA can answer this question as the prosecutor has not disclosed the sources.
” He added that although it was claimed that the cipher was received from the Foreign Office, no complaint has been lodged from that entity.
Barrister Safdar asserted that the former PTI chairman was singled out for political motives. He argued that the imposition of the death sentence or life imprisonment could not be justified against the former premier.
Justice Masood pointed out that the cipher was not shared with anyone but had been aired.
Barrister Safdar argued that the meeting where the alleged cipher conspiracy was planned occurred on March 28, 2022. However, the challan contended that Imran Khan displayed the Imran Khan cipher on March 27, 2022.
The original cipher has the Foreign Office. If there was a leak, it is the Foreign Office’s responsibility,” commented Justice Minallah, emphasizing that the discussion of the cipher cannot take place in public.
Subsequently, the PTI counsel read Qureshi’s speech from the March 27, 2022, rally at the parade ground.
In response, Justice Masood remarked that the former foreign minister displayed sensibility as he “knew what to say and what not to say” in public, and he “trapped” Imran Khan.
Barrister Safdar informed the court that the PTI’s founder did not disclose anything to the public.
Justice Minallah questioned the prosecution’s basis for deeming it necessary to keep the accused in custody.
Safdar argued that no political leader should face 40 filed cases, urging the court to end how these cases are being registered.
‘Elections strong ground for bail’
During the presentation of his arguments, Qureshi’s counsel, Ali Bukhari, stated that the PTI vice chairman is not accused of retaining the cipher or sharing it with anyone.
Justice Minallah inquired from Bukhari if Qureshi was contesting the polls. The counsel said his client would submit the nomination papers today.
“Participating in elections is a strong ground for bail,” noted Justice Minallah. He questioned how the cipher leaked when it had only one original copy with the foreign office.
There are established rules for handling sensitive documents,” stated FIA Prosecutor Rizwan Abbasi.
Justice Masood inquired whether the witnesses’ statements were taken under oath. The investigating officer affirmed that the testimony was indeed taken under oath.
According to the record, the statement of the witness, Azam Khan, was not taken under oath,” remarked Justice Masood.
Later, Justice Shah expressed that the death penalty provision in the cipher case seemed to be based on assumptions.
Justice Minallah commented that the general elections are scheduled for February 8, and the representative of a major party is currently in jail.
Did the caretaker government instruct you to oppose bail?
Why does this happen to political leaders in every era?” questioned Justice Minallah.
He noted that, at this juncture, the focus is on the upcoming general elections involving citizens’ rights. “The former prime minister Imran Khan has not been found guilty; he is innocent,” he added.
‘Cipher case has become zero’
Addressing the media after the Supreme Court’s verdict, PTI lawyer Barrister Salman Safdar stated that the cipher case had reached its conclusion.
He mentioned that the federal government did not establish that the cipher case is a serious offense, which carries a maximum penalty of a death sentence or life imprisonment.
Barrister Safdar asserted that since nothing substantial was found in other cases against the PTI leaders, the government resorted to using the cipher case against them for “political victimization.”
The Supreme Court has provided certain observations on the cipher case that will create challenges for the government in defending the case in the trial court,” he added.
“The cipher case has essentially been nullified; there is nothing substantial remaining in it now
What is ciphergate?
The controversy originated on March 27, 2022, when Imran Khan brandished a letter during a public rally less than a month before his removal in April 2022. He asserted that it was a cipher from a foreign nation, alleging a conspiracy with his political adversaries to overthrow the PTI government.
He refrained from disclosing the letter’s contents or identifying the nation of origin. However, a few days later, he accused the United States of plotting against him, alleging that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu had advocated for his removal.
The cipher pertained to a meeting between former Pakistan Ambassador to the US Majeed and Lu.
The former prime minister, while maintaining that he was reading from the cipher, declared, “all will be forgiven for Pakistan if Imran Khan is removed from power.
On March 31, the National Security Committee (NSC) addressed the issue and resolved to issue a “strong demarche” to the US, denouncing its “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan.”
Subsequently, following his removal, the then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of the NSC. During this meeting, it was concluded that no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cable had been found.
National Security Committee (NSC)
In the two widely circulated audio leaks that stirred the internet and surprised the public following these incidents, the former prime minister, then-federal minister Asad Umar, and then-principal secretary Azam were purportedly heard discussing the US cipher and strategizing on how to leverage it to their advantage.
On September 30, the federal cabinet acknowledged the issue and formed a committee to investigate the contents of the audio leaks.
In October, the cabinet approved the commencement of action against the former prime minister and transferred the case to the FIA.
After assigning the FIA to investigate the matter, it summoned Imran Khan, Umar, and other party leaders. However, the PTI chief contested the summons and obtained a stay order from the court.