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Friday, April 19, 2024  
09 Shawwal 1445  

Imran Khan, Shah Mehmood indicted in cipher case

Chargesheet says cipher was illegally retained, wrongly communicated

A special court established under the Official Secrets Act indicted former prime minister Imran Khan and ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the cipher case on Monday, with both politicians pleading not guilty.

The charge is related to a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington early last year, which Khan is accused of making public.

Khan denies that and said its contents appeared in the media from other sources.

The hearing began at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail on Monday as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s lawyers filed a new petition against a possible indictment.

But the court indicted the former prime minister and foreign minister and summoned witnesses at the next hearing on Friday. The former ruling party has said it would challenge the indictment.

Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain arrived at the jail along with Federal Investigation Agency Prosecutor Shah Khawar for the hearing.

The indictment had been scheduled for the previous hearing but could not be carried through since copies of the challan had not been signed by the two politicians.

Khan said the cable was proof of a US conspiracy to push the military to oust him in a parliamentary vote in 2022 because he had visited Moscow just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Both the United States and the military deny that.

Khan was forced from office after losing the 2022 no-confidence vote and he then led protests against the government to push for an early general election.

Khan has had dozens of legal cases filed against him, which he has denounced as an effort to banish him from politics.

According to sources, FIA’s challan accuses Khan of violating the law by keeping the cipher with him instead of returning him. A copy of the cipher has allegedly been ‘lost’.

The FIA reportedly submitted a list of 28 witnesses along with the challan. It also attached 161 statements from 27 of these witnesses.

Khan has been in jail since August 5, when he was arrested minutes after being declared guilty of corrupt practices in the Toshakhana case.

Although he managed to get his jail sentence suspended on August 29, he could not be freed as he had already been arrested in the cipher case from jail.

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Charge sheet

The charge sheet in the cipher case accuses Khan of illegally retaining and wrongly communicating the cipher.

It also charged the PTI chairman with revealing the contents of the secret document in a public rally which was a ‘prohibited’ place. The charge sheet said that Khan was not authorised to communicate the information in the document which was against the “interest” of Pakistan.

The charge sheet added that the contents of the cipher were “misused by Khan for his own interest at the cost of national security”.

It also charged Khan was “illegally keeping the document in his custody” which has compromised the entire security system of the state.

Qureshi has been charged with aiding and abetting Khan as foreign minister.

A guilty verdict under the Official Secrets Act could bring up to 14 years in prison or even a death sentence, lawyers say.

The PTI chief is disqualified from the upcoming general election because of the graft conviction but his legal team is pushing for him to be released on bail before the vote.

Khan’s old rival, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, launched his party’s election campaign on Saturday after arriving home from four years of self-imposed exile, promising to tackle inflation.

What can happen?

The case against the two leaders was registered under sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 r/w Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Under Section 5 titled ‘wrongful communication, etc, of information’, a person if found guilty could be awarded fourteen years imprisonment.

Sub section 3 stated that a person guilty of an offence under this section shall be punishable

“(a) where the offence committed is a contravention of clause (a) of sub-section (1) and intended or calculated to be, directly or indirectly, in the interest or for the benefit of a foreign power, or is in relation to any work of defence, arsenal, naval, military or air force establishment or station, mine, mine-field, factory, dockyard, camp, ship or aircraft or otherwise in relation to the naval, military or air force affairs of Pakistan or in relation to any secret official code, 2 [with death, or] with imprisonment for a term which may extend to fourteen years ; and

(b) in any other case, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.]“

Section 9 titled ‘attempts, incitements, etc’ explains that a person shall be punishable if they incite to commit, attempt to commit, aids or abets the commission of an offence under the Act.

“Any person who incites to commit, conspires to commit, attempts to commit, aids or abets the commission of an offence under this Act shall be punishable with the same punishment, and be liable to be proceeded against in the same manner as if he had committed such offence.],” it states.

(With input from Reuters)

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