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Pakistan: SC approves bail for Imran Khan, Qureshi in cipher case, ex-PM still behind bars

The Special Court (Official Secrets Act) began the cipher trial afresh last week at the Adiala jail after Imran and Qureshi were indicted for a second time in the case on December 13. Despite this slight relief, the former PM still remains behind bars amid slim chances of contesting elections.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Islamabad Published on: December 22, 2023 16:54 IST
Pakistan former PM Imran Khan and his aide Shah Mahmood
Image Source : AP Pakistan former PM Imran Khan and his aide Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday approved the bail pleas of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, both of whom are current incarcerated in Rawalpindi's Adiala Jail, in the cipher case. The case pertains to Imran brandishing a document alleging that it contains US involvement behind his ouster from power in 2022.

The order was issued by a three-member bench headed by Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and comprising Justices Athar Minallah and Syed Mansoor Ali Shah on a set of petitions by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, according to Dawn. Both Imran and Qureshi have been directed to submit surety bonds worth Rs 1 million each.

The Special Court (Official Secrets Act) began the cipher trial afresh last week at the Adiala district jail after Imran and Qureshi were indicted for a second time in the case on December 13. The former PM and his aide were first indicted on October 23, to which they had pleaded not guilty. However, the Islamabad High Court declared the jail trial "erroneous" and scrapped the legal proceedings.

Why is Imran Khan still behind bars?

Although the Pakistan apex court's verdict brings some much-needed relief for Imran Khan, he remains imprisoned as he is facing multiple cases - from corruption to violence filed in different courts across the country. Although he got bail in the Toshakhana graft case and the cipher case, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has filed two corruption references against him.

Pakistan's anti-graft watchdog arrested the PTI founder in a 190 million-pound settlement and Toshakhana cases and the bail petitions are pending before the accountability courts. Unless Imran secures bail in those two cases, he will remain behind bars for the time being.

To make things worse, the IHC rejected his plea seeking the suspension of a trial court verdict convicting him in the Toshakhana corruption case. The former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of Rs 100,000 by the Additional District and Sessions court in August.

The Supreme Court heard the case after TI had moved the apex court seeking Imran’s post-arrest bail. Previously, the SC had issued notices to the FIA and federation on the plea and directed them to submit their responses to PTI's plea that bail should not be wielded as a form of punishment.

PTI lawyer Yousaf Chaudry said that the prospect of Imran obtaining relief in the near future “appears to be very slim”. “This bail should have been given by the high court, but I am glad it came from the Supreme Court,” said PTI vice chairman's daughter Meherbano Qureshi, adding that the cipher case was a result of “political victimisation”.

What is the cipher case?

Last year, Khan alleged that the US orchestrated a plan to remove him from office and brandished a cipher at a public rally to back his claims. The US has time and again denied such allegations, terming them "categorically false".

According to Khan's then-principal secretary Azam Khan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief was allegedly “euphoric” after seeing the cipher and decided to use it to build an “anti-establishment narrative” on the back of a "blunder" committed by the US. 

“The cipher copy was retained by Imran Khan and the next day (March 10) when he asked for it, Imran Khan replied that he had misplaced it,” the confession statement said, adding that the PTI chief did not return the original cipher despite repeated requests.

On September 30, 2022, the federal cabinet of Pakistan under Shehbaz Sharif took notice of the matter and constituted a committee to probe the contents of the audio leaks. The FIA summoned Khan, Umar and other leaders of the party, but the PTI chief secured a stay order against such summons.

ALSO READ | Pakistan: Another blow for Imran Khan as High Court rejects his plea against Toshakhana conviction

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