ISLAMABAD (Agencies): In a recent development, a special court, established under the Official Secrets Act, sentenced former premier Imran Khan and ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to 10 years in prison in the cipher case. The case revolves around a diplomatic document that, according to the Federal Investigation Agency’s charge sheet, Imran never returned. The PTI has consistently claimed that the document contained a threat from the United States to remove Imran from his position as prime minister.
The verdict was delivered just nine days before the general elections scheduled for February 8, which the PTI is contesting amidst a state crackdown and without an electoral symbol. Both Imran and Qureshi have been incarcerated in the lead-up to the elections. While Imran’s candidacy was rejected, Qureshi was approved to run for a National Assembly seat from Thar. However, today’s conviction disqualifies both of them from contesting elections for the next five years.
This marks Imran’s second conviction, as he was previously convicted in the Toshakhana case and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Although the Islamabad High Court initially suspended his sentence, a division bench later dismissed Imran’s petition seeking the suspension of the conviction. This is Qureshi’s first conviction.
Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain announced the verdict. At the beginning of the hearing, Imran and Qureshi were given a questionnaire under Section 342 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. After Imran recorded his statement, the court inquired about the location of the cipher, to which he responded that he did not know and that the cipher had been in his office.
Following the announcement of the verdict, the judge exited the courtroom, prompting Qureshi to protest that his statement had not been recorded. The PTI has decried the trial as a sham and plans to challenge the verdict in the Islamabad High Court. In a statement, a PTI official declared that Pakistan stands with Imran and Qureshi, who defended Pakistan and stood for true freedom. The statement urged the public to vote on February 8 and expressed confidence that the sentence would be overturned on appeal.
The Cipher case is one of more than 150 pending against Khan, a former cricketer turned Islamist politician. Other charges range from contempt of court to terrorism and inciting violence.
Khan is alleged to have waved a confidential document during a rally after he was toppled as premier, claiming that it was proof he was being threatened and that his ousting was a US conspiracy, allegedly executed by the military and the government in Pakistan. Washington and Pakistani officials have denied the claim.
The document he waved, nicknamed Cipher, has not been made public by either the government or Khan’s lawyers but was diplomatic correspondence between the Pakistani ambassador to Washington and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad.