Pakistan's Supreme Court approves Imran Khan, his aide Qureshi's bail in cipher case

SC directs Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leaders to submit surety bonds worth Rs 1 million each, the Dawn newspaper reported

Imran Khan (photo: National Herald archives)
Imran Khan (photo: National Herald archives)
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PTI

In a relief to jailed former prime minister Imran Khan ahead of elections, Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday (22 December) approved his and close aide Shah Mahmood Qureshi's bail in the cipher case related to the alleged leakage of state secrets.

The apex court also directed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders to submit surety bonds worth Rs 1 million each, the Dawn newspaper reported.

The order was issued by a three-member bench headed by justice Sardar Tariq Masood and comprising justices Athar Minallah and Syed Mansoor Ali Shah on a set of PTI petitions ahead of the February 8 general elections.

The case is based on the allegation that a diplomatic document sent by the Pakistan embassy in March last year was mishandled by Khan, 71, and Qureshi, 67, and they violated the secrecy laws of the country.

However, Khan will remain in jail as he is convicted in the Toshakhana corruption case about the concealment of details of state gifts.

During Friday's hearing, justice Masood observed that the statement of a witness is taken on oath, but Azam Khan's - ex-principal secretary of former premier Khan who is a key witness in the case - statement was taken without one, the Express Tribune newspaper said.

He then inquired if an investigation was conducted regarding Azam's prolonged disappearance.

Referring to the National Security Council's (NSC) meeting held over the matter during Shehbaz Sharif's tenure as premier, justice Masood inquired why the then-premier claimed that the cypher document was missing if during the meeting it was suggested that a demarche should be issued.

"Mashallah, the Islamabad High Court has already given a decision on the matter. The only job that appears to be remaining is providing [the accused] a noose" justice Masood remarked, expressing his displeasure with the proceedings in the lower court. The acting chief justice then wondered how two NSC meetings were held on the issue if the cypher was missing.

During the court proceedings, the top court also heard the petition against Khan and Qureshi's October 23 indictment.

At the outset of the hearing, justice Masood remarked that the indictment that was challenged was already nullified by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on November 21.

As a result, Khan and Qureshi's October 23 indictments in the case also stood null and void, and the trial was conducted again.

Justice Masood said that the fresh indictment will not be affected by the previous proceedings that were declared invalid by the IHC.

At this, Khan's counsel Hamid Khan argued that the trial was taking place on the previous chargesheet.

Justice Masood noted that the petition against the old chargesheet has become infructuous. "If you have an objection to the fresh indictment then challenge it in the high court," the judge told the lawyer.

To this, Hamid requested the court to wait for the IHC's decision against the in-camera trial in the cipher case.

Khan's other counsel Barrister Salman Safdar said that Hamid had made amendments to his petitions, requesting the court to take it as a fresh one.
The court then adjourned the hearing on the plea against indictment and took up the bail petitions.

Speaking to the media following the SC verdict, PTI lawyer Barrister Salman Safdar said the cipher case has reached its conclusion.

He said the federal government failed to prove that the cipher case is a serious offence that carries a maximum penalty of death sentence or life imprisonment.

Safdar said when nothing was found in other cases against the PTI leaders then the government used the cipher case against them for "political victimisation".

"Supreme Court has made some observations [regarding the cipher case] which will make it difficult for the government to defend [the case] in the trial court," he added.

"The cipher case has become zero, nothing is left in this now," he said.

The Federal Investigation Agency's charge sheet alleges the document was never returned by Khan. The PTI has long held that the document contained a threat from the United States to oust Khan as prime minister.

The Special Court (Official Secrets Act) had begun the cipher trial afresh last week at the Adiala district jail after Khan and Qureshi were indicted for a second time in the case on December 13.

Khan and Qureshi, who is also behind bars, were first indicted in the case on October 23. Both had pleaded not guilty. The trial was being held at the Adiala Jail and four witnesses had alre a dy recorded their statements when the Islamabad High Court termed the government's notification for a jail trial "erroneous" and scrap ped the entire proceedings.

The IHC had endorsed Khan's indictment, disposing of his plea against the same, but had also instructed the special court judge to ensure a "fair trial".

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

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