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Pak govt challenges IHC verdict
nullifying Imran’s cipher jail trial

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s caretaker federal government has challenged the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) decision to declare its notification regarding the jail trial of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan’s in the cypher case as null and void.
It reported that the government filed a petition in the apex court to overturn the High Court’s decision saying that the high court did not evaluate the facts of the case properly.
It contended that the IHC did not have the authority to declare a special court formed to hold cipher trial of the former premier as invalid. In November last year, the IHC had nullified the notification for conducting PTI founder Imran Khan’s jail trial in the cipher case registered on charges of leaking state secrets.

An IHC division bench, comprising Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb and Justice Saman Rafat Imtiaz, announced the verdict on November 21, 2023 on Imran’s intra-court appeal against a single-member bench’s decision to approve his jail trial in the cipher case under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
Allowing Khan’s intra-court appeal, the division bench declared the law ministry’s notification “to be without lawful authority and no legal effect”.
The IHC stated in the three-page short order that the jail trial can be conducted in “exceptional circumstances”. “In exceptional circumstances and where it is conducive to justice, a trial can be conducted in jail in a manner that fulfills the requirements of an open trial or a trial in camera provided it is in accordance with the procedure provided by law.”
The court also declared that the November 15 notification issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice after the caretaker cabinet’s approval of the jail trial “cannot be given retrospective effect”. Imran’s cipher trial was started afresh but the IHC declared all the proceedings in the cipher case conducted by a special court after December 14, 2023 as invalid.

It must be noted that on August 29, the IHC had suspended the PTI chief’s sentence in the Toshakhana case, but a special court established under the Official Secrets Act had directed jail authorities to keep Imran in “judicial lockup” in the cipher case.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan

A notification issued by the law ministry the same day had stated that the Law and Justice Division had “no objection” to Imran’s trial in the cipher case being held at Attock jail. In September, Imran was shifted to Adiala jail.

The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that the Federal Investigation Agency’s charge sheet alleges was never returned by Imran. The PTI has long held that the document contained a threat from the United States to oust Imran as prime minister.

The former premier and his aide Shah Mahmood Qureshi were indicted in the case on Oct 23. Both pleaded not guilty.

However, on Nov 21, an IHC division bench — comprising Justice Mian­gul Hassan Aur­angzeb and Justice Saman Rafat Imtiaz — had declared Imran’s intra-court appeal against a single-member bench’s decision approving his jail trial in the cipher case as maintainable.

The bench had termed the government’s notification for a jail trial “erroneous” and scrap­ped the entire proceedings.

As a result, Imran and Qureshi’s indictments in the case stood null and void, and the trial was conducted again in open court. Charges were subsequently framed against them for a second time on Dec 14.

Citing previous apex court orders, the plea stated that “proceeding is something having the backing of judicial order or judicial process” and “action of the executive cannot be termed as proceedings in any manner whatsoever”.

“The Official Secret Act does not revolve around ouster of some secrets and if unauthorised ouster of secret can be made public by way of judicial proceedings conducted in public may prejudice the national security and might adversely affect the state sovereignty,” the government said.