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IHC orders open court hearing of Imran’s bail plea in cypher case | The Express Tribune


The Islamabad High Court (IHC) rejected on Wednesday the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) petition to hold in-camera proceedings of ousted premier Imran Khan’s bail plea in the cypher case.

IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq had reserved his decision on the FIA’s plea earlier this week.

Announcing the verdict, the court said that the matter will be heard before an open court. The documents which are to be kept confidential will remain so after consulting with the counsels, said CJ Farooq.

The court fixed the bail application for hearing on October 9.

The cypher case concerns a diplomatic cable, which reportedly went missing from Imran’s possession. His party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had claimed that the cypher contained a threat from the United States to remove Imran from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Imran was ousted through a vote of no-confidence in April 2022. He has been arrested twice since, with the second arrest made on August 5, 2023, after a district and sessions court sentenced him to three years in prison in the Toshakhana case. The sentence was later suspended by the IHC but it emerged that he had been sent on judicial remand in the cypher case.

The PTI chief faces over 150 criminal cases.

On September 26, the judicial remand of Imran and former interior minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is also implicated in the cypher case, was extended till October 10.

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On September 30, both the PTI leaders were declared principal accused by the FIA in its challan submitted before a special court established under the Official Secrets Act.

Earlier this week, the FIA had sought in-camera proceedings of the PTI chief’s bail plea in the cypher case arguing that an open court hearing could adversely affect Pakistan’s diplomatic relations with other countries.

Earlier today, the federal body also sought a closed door trial but its request was rejected by the special court.

‘In-camera trial under century-old law unconstitutional’

An in-camera trial of charges framed under a 100-year-old law – Official Secrets Act – cannot be held, said Imran’s lawyer Salman Safdar earlier today, terming the FIA’s request “unconstitutional”.

He was speaking to the media while a special court conducted hearing of the case inside Adiala jail premises.

The hearing was held amid stringent security outside the prison premises, where Imran and Qureshi are currently incarcerated, Safdar stressed that if the trial is to be held, it must be held before the public.

The counsel said he spoke to the ousted premier briefly today and the latter prohibited his legal team from entering into “any kind of deal”. A more detailed conversation will be held with him tomorrow (Thursday), said Safdar.

He further said that charges under the Official Secrets Act are “serious”. The matter of the PTI chief’s arrest in this case was being kept secret and now attempts are being made to keep the trial secret as well, said Safdar, adding that this could not be.

The defence counsel stressed that the matter is pending before the high court and his team would appeal to the trial court to adjourn proceedings till it is decided on.

The hearing

In a first, a special court set up inside the premises of the Adiala jail heard the cypher case against Imran and Qureshi on Wednesday.

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Judge Abul Hasnaat Zulqarnain presided over the proceedings and directed the prosecution to provide copies of the case challan to the accused, who are both currently incarcerated in the same prison and were produced before the court by jail authorities, at the next hearing on October 9, 2023.

At the outset of the hearing, the Federal Investigation Agency’s prosecutor submitted a plea before the court seeking in-camera proceedings.

At this, the court observed that citizens were not present in the courtroom as it is since the trial was being conducted inside the prison.

Meanwhile, the court rejected the defence counsels’ plea to stay the proceedings.

The court observed that the bail pleas are yet to be heard in the high court and the same has reserved its verdict on the matter of in-camera proceedings.

There is no final decision by the high court hence the proceedings cannot be stayed, remarked the court.

Copies of the case challan were to be distributed to the accused today but were not.

The hearing was adjourned till October 9.

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