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IHC Postpones Hearing on Imran Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s Appeals in Cipher Case

On Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) postponed the hearing on appeals filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan and Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi challenging their convictions in the Cipher case. The hearing was presided over by Chief Justice Aamir Farooq and Justice Mian Gul Hasan Aurangzeb, and featured arguments from Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Special Prosecutor Hamid Ali Shah.

During the session, the FIA prosecutor sought to present digital and documentary evidence, including audio and video recordings verified by experts, which were subject to cross-examination. Justice Aurangzeb questioned whether the trial court had relied on these evidences in its decision. The prosecutor clarified that although the trial court mentioned the experts’ testimonies, its decision was not solely based on them.

The case concerns the public disclosure of a cipher document by Imran Khan during his tenure as Prime Minister. The prosecutor argued that revealing the cipher violated official secrecy and compromised national security. He emphasized that the cipher was intended for a restricted audience of nine individuals and that its disclosure potentially benefitted other countries.

Chief Justice Farooq inquired about the criminality of sharing information, to which the prosecutor responded affirmatively, stressing the detrimental impact on national security. The prosecutor reiterated that Khan’s actions, intentional or not, posed a risk to the country’s diplomatic relations and security.

Justice Aurangzeb expressed concerns about the diplomatic repercussions of demarching an ambassador and questioned the extent to which one individual’s actions could damage international relations. The prosecutor maintained that the public disclosure of the cipher was a serious offense with wide-ranging implications.

Chief Justice Farooq pressed the prosecutor for specific documents used in the trial court that demonstrated external forces damaging Pakistan’s relations. The prosecutor claimed that relations with the United States had deteriorated, but the Chief Justice demanded concrete evidence, pointing out that the demarche was not introduced as evidence and was not a classified document.

Justice Mian Gul Hasan remarked that issuing a warning to a country typically does not elicit a thank you, asking what specific information from the cipher had been manipulated. Referring to Imran Khan’s claim, the judge inquired whether the cipher stated that if the PTI founder was not removed from office, there would be serious consequences. The prosecutor confirmed this message and that Khan had admitted to it.

Justice Hassan then asked the prosecution to clarify what had been altered in the cipher. The IHC Chief Justice noted that even if the accused admits to something, the prosecution must still prove its case. He questioned what was in the sealed envelope and what changes were made to the cipher. Justice Aurangzeb pointed out that the exact content of the cipher remained unclear, criticizing the FIA’s allegations by noting that if Khan had accurately presented the cipher’s text, what manipulation had occurred?

Chief Justice Farooq straightforwardly asked which country had benefitted from this, emphasizing that mere claims of deteriorated relationships do not make them true. He questioned the concrete actions that demonstrated the alleged diplomatic damage.

The Special Prosecutor replied that Khan had read out the cipher texts to international media, revealing what the US had said. However, Justice Mian Gul Hasan expressed skepticism regarding the reliability of these statements, noting that they could be considered political rhetoric rather than factual evidence. He questioned the prosecutor about the sources of these statements, suggesting that they might not be impartial.

The prosecutor mentioned that international media outlets like Voice of America and Deutsche Welle had reported on the matter, but Justice Gul Hasan pointed out that some sources cited were Indian newspapers, which could be biased.

The FIA prosecutor explained that the cipher wasn’t presented due to its sensitivity, prompting Justice Mian Gul Hasan to question why it couldn’t be presented in court. Chief Justice Farooq questioned if the head of an institution had declared the document confidential and why the FIA didn’t present it in court.

The Chief Justice emphasized that it was the prosecution’s responsibility to provide all relevant evidence. The prosecutor responded that the cipher was not presented as the court did not request it, but Justice Mian Gul Hasan criticized this approach as problematic and inconsistent.

The court adjourned the hearing, scheduling further deliberations for the following Wednesday, and emphasized the importance of the prosecution addressing the court’s questions and presenting all relevant evidence. Chief Justice Farooq also highlighted the expected presence of the Advocate General of Islamabad and state councils in the next session, underscoring the significance of the upcoming proceedings.

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