Cipher Case: Imran Khan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi' Not Deserving Of Any Leniency', Reads Detailed Judgement

The 77-page detailed verdict says the two had compromised the integrity of the country's cipher communication systems while their actions, directly or indirectly, benefitted foreign powers

Cipher Case: Imran Khan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi' Not Deserving Of Any Leniency', Reads Detailed Judgement

Observing that former prime minister Imran Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi do not deserve any leniency, the Special Court trying them under the Official Secrets Act 1923, has held that the two accused have compromised the integrity of the country's cipher communication systems and benefitted foreign powers, which are not necessarily friendly towards Pakistan.

The 77-page detailed verdict authored by Special Court's Judge Abul Hasnat Zulqarnain was issued on Thursday, wherein findings against Imran and Qureshi are described.

"It is evident that Pakistan has faced serious economic, diplomatic and political consequences due to the offences committed by the accused Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, which in turn weakened Pakistan's economy, thus adversely affecting the national security," observed the special court.

Established under the Official Secret Act (OSA), the court held both Imran Khan and Qureshi were guilty under various sections of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Imran Khan was sentenced to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment under section 5(3)(a) of the OSA, two years under section 5(1)(c) of OSA with a fine of Rs1 million, and another two years under section 5(1)(d) of OSA with an additional fine of Rs1 million. 

Both were also held guilty under section 5(3)(a) of OSA, read with section 34 PPC, each receiving a rigorous 10-year imprisonment sentence. 

Cumulatively, Imran was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Additionally, Qureshi has been found guilty under section 9, read with section 5(3)(a) of OSA. 

All sentences, however, will run concurrently.

The court said that Imran willfully communicated information to the public, which was not at all in the interest of the state of Pakistan.

It said that Imran's act, directly or indirectly, benefitted foreign powers. 

"The cipher episode was a setback for Pakistan-US bilateral relationship and carried adverse implication for future, diplomatic reporting culture," the court observed. 

The testimony that implicated them did not come from Pakistan's former ambassador to the US Asad Majeed. Rather, the verdict noted it came from the prosecution witness (PW) Sohail Mehmood, who had shared his views in the cabinet meeting that there was no example of de-classification of cipher and it could not only affect the working of missions and the foreign ministry but also affect relations with the US. 

The verdict stated that another PW, Faisal Niaz Tirmizi's statement was also relevant, they said that he was contacted through a WhatsApp message by the US Charge de Affairs, who wanted to hand carry a document which the then-prime minister waved in a public rally.

"All the above said statements, if seen in juxtaposition, it clearly shows that above said act of accused Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi, who disclosed the above said information before un-authorised people, in fact damage Pakistan and so far as this damage is concerned, word 'calculated' mentioned in section 5 means that it is to be inferred in the light of facts and circumstances of the case or through surrounding circumstances and this is a matter of public knowledge that different international institutes gave a tough time to Pakistan." 

The court said that Imran and Qureshi deliberately and advertently avoided cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses in the case, which was of most confidential and classified secret information.

The acts of Imran Khan and Qureshi, the court said, were tantamount to the commissioning the murder of the trust of states, which definitely had an adverse impact and effect on the political, social, economic and other foreign policies and, in turn, had an impact on the security, sovereignty and the integrity of the country.

The court further observed that Imran's act of waving a piece of paper during a public rally to level unfounded accusations of a foreign conspiracy to topple his government resulted in having grave adverse consequences for the safety, integrity and credibility of Pakistan's cipher system and had a chilling effect on its relations with foreign governments. 

"There is no doubt that the accused persons (Imran and Qureshi), with ulterior motives, undermined the cipher system of Pakistan, which, in turn, benefits unfriendly foreign powers, directly and/or indirectly," the court observed, adding that, "it is amply clear that this was a deliberate and well-planned manipulative lie aimed at rousing populist sentiment in the masses with no regard of its consequences for Pakistan's external relations as well as national security interests. 

While he did not name the country of origin for the cipher during his public rally on March 27, a few days later on March 31, 2022, while still in office as the prime minister of Pakistan, the court held that Imran named the United States as the country which had sent the so-called "threatening memo." 

"This generated immediate and predictable stress in Pak-US relations at a critical time when Pakistan's economic situation needed its support vis-vis international lenders." 

After causing considerable damage to the Pak-US relationship in terms of trust and confidence, the court noted that when Imran realised the consequences of his manipulation, he began to falsely accuse Pakistan's military leadership of conspiracy to oust him from power.

While proceedings of the cipher case took place in-camera and away from the public eye, the judgment cast light on the casual and frank attitude of Imran and Qureshi in dealing the proceedings of cipher case. 

"Both the accused (Imran and Qureshi) misbehaved with learned defense counsels at state expense, and files were thrown."

"It is painfully noted that accused Imran and Qureshi were represented through a number of lawyers/defense counsels, but during entire proceedings the above said accused played hide and seek and considered the entire proceedings in a mockery."

"In the above said situation, it is crystal clear that under the law and keeping in view the fair trial under the umbrella of the Constitution, proper and due time was given to the defense to cross-examine the PWs, but they deliberately not cross-examined them and voluntarily deprived themselves from the valuable right of cross-examination which speaks volume against the conduct of both the accused."

When both the accused chose to remain silent, the court said in the judgement that it was put in a situation where it had no other choice but to convict the accused.

"The instant case was registered after adopting all legal measures, and inquiry was conducted in a detailed manner and that took approximately 17-months, hence, the registration of FIR cannot be termed as filed through inordinate delay," the judgement said, explaining why it had upheld the FIR. 

"The entire prosecution evidence fully corroborated the stance in the light of statements of prosecution witnesses along with documentary evidence. There is not a single dent available on record to show that there is any flaw in the ocular account of the prosecution witnesses."

So far as the role of Qureshi is concerned, the judgment said he was the foreign minister at the time and very much conversant with the sensitivity involved in the disclosure of contents of a cipher telegram.

"The revelation and manipulation of secret, sensitive and classified information contained in an encoded diplomatic cipher (recollecting the account of an informal meeting between Pakistani and American officials in Washington by the accused, Imran and Qureshi) in order to achieve their personal and political interests, at the altar of national stability and national security, patently constitute grave violations of the laws of Pakistan."