On December 13, 2023, a special court in Pakistan charged former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his close associate former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the cipher case. They are accused of leaking state secrets and violating the country’s laws. Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqernain presided over the proceedings at the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, where the two leaders have been incarcerated in the case
The judge read out the charges against the two leaders who were present inside the courtroom but both of them have pleaded not guilty. This marks the second instance of their indictment. The initial took place on October 23, 2023, but the process was invalidated by the Islamabad High Court.
During a hearing on December 4, 2023, emphasised the necessity for a fresh indictment following the Islamabad High Court ruling which deemed all previous proceedings illegal due to procedural issues related to jail trial. Consequently, the new process around allegations was initiated to conduct an in-prison trial for the duo ensuring all procedures were completed and the case was restarted from the beginning.
The Federal Investigation Agency had registered a case (cipher case) on August 15, 2023, accusing Khan and Qureshi of violating the secret laws of the country. The case revolves around allegations that diplomatic documents sent by the Pakistan Embassy in March of the previous year were mishandled by the two leaders, leading to a breach of the nation’s confidential laws.
The Cipher Case
The Document at the center of the controversy contained an account of a meeting that took place on March 7, 2022, between the US State Department officials including the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Affairs Donald Lu, and the Pakistan ambassador to the US Asad Majeed Khan. The complete text of the purported cable has not been disclosed yet as it is protected under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923 of Pakistan.
In the meeting, the US officials expressed their displeasure regarding Imran’s neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the then PM was in Moscow on February 24, 2022, when President Vladimir Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine, according to a media report.
Lu went on to say, “I think if the no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister succeeds, all will be forgiven in Washington because the Russia visit is being looked at as a decision by the Prime Minister.” “Otherwise,” he continued, “I think it will be tough going ahead.” Asad Majed sent the details of this meeting to Islamabad through a cable called “Secret”
On March 27, 2022, at a huge gathering in Islamabad, former PM of Pakistan Imran Khan first talked about the secret document. He pulled out a letter from his pocket claiming it to be proof of an international conspiracy to oust him out of power. After ten days, he received more details about the cable and said that the US had sent a threatening message through Pakistan’s envoy, as per a Pakistani news agency.
After being ousted from power, Imran Khan has repeatedly brought up the issue of the classified cable and blamed the US for the no-confidence vote against him.
The PML-N-led government accused Imran Khan of exposing the secret document that had harmed the political relations of Pakistan. The next month, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan filed an FIR against Khan under Section 5 of the Official Secret Acts. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.