Islamabad high court issues stay order against jail trial of Imran Khan in cipher case
The 71-year-old Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman is currently detained in Adiala jail in Rawalpindi on judicial remand
A Pakistan high court on Tuesday issued a stay order against the jail trial of former prime minister Imran Khan in the cipher case, seeking information about the "circumstances" that prompted the trial to be conducted in a high-security Rawalpindi prison.
The 71-year-old Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman is currently detained in Adiala jail in Rawalpindi on judicial remand. Khan's close aide and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, 67, who was also arrested in the cipher case is imprisoned in the same jail. Khan and Qureshi have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A two-member bench of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) comprising Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb and Justice Saman Rafat Imtiaz pronounced the judgement during the hearing of Khan's intra-court appeal against his trial in Adiala jail.
The appeal was filed against a single-member bench of the same court which last month upheld the trial of Khan in Adiala Jail.
Justice Aurangzeb said the court would scrutinise the notification, questioning the "extraordinary circumstances" that led to the trial being conducted in its current manner. "We want to know the actual events; you have to inform us," the judge said.
The court also sought clarification on the reasons behind the federal cabinet's approval of the jail trial. "The most important question lies in determining the status of court proceedings preceding the cabinet's approval," Justice Aurangzeb asked.
The IHC refused to grant a plea by Attorney General Mansoor Awan that instead of staying the trial, the court should fix the next hearing for Wednesday when he would present the entire record of the case. After rejecting the request, the court fixed the next hearing for Thursday and ordered to stop the proceeding.
The development comes a day after the caretaker government on Monday approved the jail trial of Khan and Qureshi in the case based on an alleged violation of the Official Secrets Act while dealing with a secret diplomatic cable by the Pakistan embassy in Washington in March 2022. The duo were booked by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)in the case in August.
The interim Cabinet gave its nod to the summary moved by the law ministry for the jail trial of Khan and Qureshi in Adiala jail due to security concerns.
The single bench, led by IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, on October 16 had observed no apparent malice behind conducting Khan's jail trial in the cipher case and directed him to approach the trial court if his reservations persist. Subsequently, Khan filed an intra-court appeal against the single bench's decision.
As the IHC issued orders to stay the hearing, Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain presided over the trial of Khan and Qureshi in the jail, where witnesses were summoned to record their statements.
Limited family members of both the accused were allowed to attend the hearing today as they were permitted to do so during the previous hearing. Both Khan and Qureshi were present during the trial.
Separately, an Islamabad-based accountability court sought details from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) if a notification had been issued for a jail hearing of the Al-Qadir Trust case against Khan.
Khan was formally arrested on Monday in the Al-Qadir Trust and Toshakhana cases after the same court accepted NAB's plea to arrest him for probe in the two cases.
The former premier was first arrested in the Al-Qadir Trust case on May 9, which led to violent protests countrywide, and later on released on the orders of the Supreme Court.
Judge Mohammad Bashir, while hearing the Al-Qadir, asked the NAB prosecutor when he planned to present the PTI chief before the court and if there was notification issued by the government on the jail trial of the former prime minister.
The NAB official responded that he would check the status of the notification and inform the court.
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 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.