ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Tuesday reserved the verdict on the intra-court appeal filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan against the jail trial in the cipher case.
A division bench comprising Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb and Justice Saman Riffat Imtiaz reserved the verdict on the plea which will be announced at around 5:30pm today.
Justice Aurangzeb, during the hearing, said that a short order on the appeal will be announced today, adding that the detailed order will be issued later.
In a hearing on November 14, the high court suspended Khan’s jail trial in the cipher case. The PTI chairman is currently in Adiala jail after he was indicted by the special court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain.
The IHC’s order came after the caretaker federal cabinet approved the jail trial of Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the case.
Previously, the deposed prime minister — who was ousted from office following a no-confidence motion in April last year — had moved IHC against the jail trial which was rejected by the court’s single bench on October 16.
IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq’s single-member bench ruled that there was no apparent malice behind conducting Khan’s jail trial in the cipher case. The court also directed him to approach the trial court if reservations persist.
Later, Khan filed an intra-court appeal against the single bench’s decision.
At the outset of the hearing, Khan’s lawyer Salman Akram Raja presented his arguments, saying that there is a proper procedure that needs to be followed for a jail trial.
Raja told the court that for a jail trial, the court should issue an order with proper reasoning. “Following [the order], the second stage involves the approval of the federal government on the chief commissioner’s request,” he stated.
He added that the government has to inform the high court after approval from the cabinet.
“The cabinet has to approve the order, however, in this case, the cabinet hadn’t given any approval before November 12,” said Raja.
Raja further said that the judge should pass a judicial order that also includes the finding, highlighting that there hasn’t been any order like this yet.
“This is the basic illegality in this case,” he said.
Khan’s counsel told the court that the judge had written the letter to the law ministry on November 8, however, it can not considered a judicial order.
He further said that he believes the first request for a jail trial comes from the prosecution.
“The judge, in his letter, wrote that the jail trial should be approved to avoid future complications. Despite the approval from the cabinet, the notification will not be applied retrospectively,” he added.
Raja contended that the judge talked about the future and not the past in the letter, which was sent by the chief commissioner to the home ministry and then to the law ministry.
Advocate Raja said that a summary was then sent to the cabinet. “The summary which was prepared on November 10 did not include the previous jail trial,” he argued.
Khan’s counsel said that the cabinet approved the trial and a notification was issued. “However, the judge did not ask for the approval retrospectively. How can the cabinet give its approval to something the [judge] hadn’t requested for,” he asked.
“Do you believe the November 13 order fulfils the legal requirements?” questioned Justice Aurangzeb.
At this, Raja said that he did not believe it was legal as the cabinet gave its approval without a judicial order.
The bench adjourned further hearing till Tuesday (today).
What is ciphergate?
The controversy emerged on March 27, 2022, when Imran Khan — less than a month before his ouster in April 2022 — while addressing a public rally waved a letter before the crowd, claiming that it was a cipher from a foreign nation that had conspired with his political rivals to have PTI government overthrown.
He did not reveal the contents of the letter nor did he mention the name of the nation it came from. But a few days later, he accused the United States of conspiring against him and alleged that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu had sought his removal.
The cipher was about former Pakistan ambassador to the US Majeed’s meeting with Lu.
The former prime minister, claiming that he was reading contents from the cipher, said that “all will be forgiven for Pakistan if Imran Khan is removed from power”.
Then on March 31, the National Security Committee (NSC) took up the matter and decided to issue a “strong demarche” to the US for its “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan”.
Later, after his removal, then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of the NSC, which came to the conclusion that it had found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cable.
In the two audio leaks that took the internet by storm and shocked the public after these events, the former prime minister, then-federal minister Asad Umar, and then-principle secretary Azam Khan could allegedly be heard discussing the US cipher and how to use it to their advantage.
On September 30, the federal cabinet took notice of the matter and constituted a committee to probe the contents of the audio leaks.
In October, the cabinet gave the green signal to initiate action against the former prime minister and handed over the case to the FIA.
Once FIA was given the task to probe the matter, it summoned Imran, Asad Umar, and other leaders of the party, but the PTI chief challenged the summons and secured a stay order from the court.
In July 2023, the Lahore High Court (LHC) recalled the stay order against the call-up notice to Imran by the FIA and a formal trial was commenced.
In August, Khan and Qureshi were booked under the Official Secrets Act 1923 in the cipher case after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) invoked Section 5 of the said law.
Khan and Qureshi have been indicted by the special court and are currently incarcerated in Adiala jail in the cipher case.