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IHC reserves verdict after FIA says public hearing in cipher case can ‘damage’ diplomatic relations

Imran Khan's lawyer opposes in-camera hearing
Former prime minister Imran Khan, center, leaves after appearing in the Supreme Court in Islamabad on July 26, 2023. AFP
Former prime minister Imran Khan, center, leaves after appearing in the Supreme Court in Islamabad on July 26, 2023. AFP

The Islamabad High Court reserved its decision after the Federal Investigation Agency petitioned for in-camera hearing of PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s bail plea in the cipher case. The agency told the court that public hearings could reveal contents of secret documents and harm Pakistan’s diplomatice relations with other countries.

IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq heard Imran Khan’s bail petition on Monday where the FIA submitted a request for the hearings to be held in-camera.

During the hearing, the FIA lawyer said that the cipher was a secret document and its contents could not be revealed in public. He also added that an open-trial of the cipher case could affect Pakistan’s relations with foreign countries mentioned in the document.

Justice Farooq said that he had not conducted an in-camera hearing in the last nine years, except perhaps in a missing person’s case.

Khan’s lawyers opposed the application for in-camera hearing. Lawyer Salman Safdar argued that while proceedings in a trial court could be made in-camera, the same could not be applied to bail proceedings.

Safdar said that if there was a sensitive matter involved, it could be heard by the judge in the chamber.

The lawyer also told the court that he had prepared for hearing to be livestreamed but instead the FIA had asked for in-camera hearing. Justice Farooq replied that a committee was working to find a way to livestream proceedings. The CJ added that the matter had been placed before the full court.

Reserving the judgement, Justice Farooq said that the case would be fixed for hearing again soon. When Imran Khan’s lawyer requested for a date within the next one to two days, the CJ replied that the matter would be handled by his office.

A day earlier, the FIA filed miscellaneous application to conduct in-camera hearing on the bail application of the PTI chief.

The development came a day after the FIA declared former prime minister and ex-foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi as the principal accused in the cipher case. The agency filed on Saturday a challan (charge sheet) in the Special Court established under the Official Secrets Act.

Former planning minister Asad Umar was not included in FIA’s accused list while former principal secretary Azam Khan has become FIA’s witness whose statement was attached with the challan, sources said.

Azam has already testified against Imran Khan.

The FIA invoked in the challan sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act which may lead to death sentence, or two to 14 years’ imprisonment, if proved.

As per the challan, the PTI chairman violated the Official Secrets Act by keeping the cipher with him. A copy of the cipher reached Khan but it was never returned, the challan stated, according to the sources.

Earlier this month, the Attock Jail’s superintendent informed the court that Khan cannot be allowed to speak to his sons via telephone under prison rules.

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