The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that the FIA charge sheet alleges was never returned by Imran. The PTI has long held that that the document contained a threat from the United States to oust Imran as prime minister.
On Monday, both Imran and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi were indicted by a special court hearing the case. They have pleaded not guilty.
Imran had filed several petitions in the IHC — seeking to stay his jail trial, for bail in the cipher case, against his indictment in the cipher case, to suspend the Toshakhana verdict, and one seeking cancellation of the first information report in the cipher case.
On Oct 16, the IHC had reserved its verdict on the pleas seeking bail and quashing of the FIR while also disposing of the petition challenging the PTI chief’s jail trial.
A day ago, the IHC endorsed Imran’s indictment, disposing of his plea against the same, but also instructed the special court judge to ensure a “fair trial”.
Today, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq pronounced the reserved verdict, rejecting the former premier’s pleas seeking post-arrest bail and the quashing of the case.
The written verdict issued by the court, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, declared both petitions as “without merit” and were “accordingly dismissed”.
“It is clarified that any observations, made hereinabove, are tentative in nature and shall not prejudice learned trial court during the trial,” the judgment emphasised.
On the matter of the plea seeking dismissal of the case, it stated that the petitioner had the “efficacious and alternate remedy by way of moving an appropriate application” under section 249-A (power of magistrate to acquit accused at any stage) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
“Moreover, the petitioner is co-accused in the case and even if the arguments advanced for quashing of FIR on his behalf are accepted, FIR cannot be quashed in as much as there are other co-accused and there cannot be a partial quashing of FIR,” the verdict said referring to the fact that the FIR had named multiple people named.
Referring to a previous Supreme Court verdict, the IHC said it showed that “contents of cipher were such that they only called for demarche and not any further strict action, as there was no conspiracy of any kind”.
Addressing the arguments made in the pleas, the judgment said Imran, “when addressed the public gathering, was not doing so pursuant to the performance of his duties as prime minister, rather it was a political engagement”.
Noting that the punishment for the offense committed under section 5(1)(a) (wrongful communication, etc of information) of the Official Secrets Act was “death or imprisonment up to fourteen years”, the IHC said it attracted the prohibitory clause of section 497 (when bail may be taken in ease of non-boilable offence) of the CrPC and “there does not exist any ground for further inquiry”.
The IHC stated, “The case law cited by the petitioner for grant of bail in the facts and circumstances is not relevant in as much as undoubtedly the evidence is all documentary but according to the prosecution, the copy of cipher is still in custody of the petitioner and […] where allegations are serious and prima facie link the accused with the commission of the offence, bail is to be denied in case of Official Secrets Act, 1923.”
Last month, the special court had rejected Imran’s and PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s bail pleas in the cipher case.
On September 30, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had submitted a challan — a charge sheet — in a special court established under the Official Secrets Act naming PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Imran as the principal accused in the case.
According to the charge sheet, the PTI chief, while holding the office of the prime minister, used the cipher in a “prohibited place (jalsa)” and “willfully communicated” the secret information to unauthorised persons, which was against the “interest of the State of Pakistan”.
“The cipher was entrusted to you in confidence by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [but] you used the document while keeping it in your possession for the benefit of your personal political designs and compromised the cipher and the security system of Pakistan,” it read.
The charge sheet had further stated that Imran conspired to “misuse the contents of the cipher” at a meeting in his Bani Gala residence on March 28, 2022. It had added that Imran kept the cipher in his possession and never returned it to the foreign ministry.
The charge sheet had said that Qureshi “aided and abetted” Imran and therefore was liable for the act in the same manner.