ISLAMABAD: A special court in Islamabad, convened on Monday to address cases filed under the Official Secrets Act, has approved a four-day physical remand of Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Vice Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in a cipher-related case. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had taken Qureshi into custody on Saturday, and he was brought before the special court today regarding a cipher case lodged under the same act.
Judge Abual Hasnat, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) judge, oversaw the hearing concerning the allegations against Qureshi in accordance with the Official Secrets Act.
During the initial stages of the hearing, the FIA prosecutor requested a 13-day physical remand of Qureshi to facilitate the retrieval of the purported missing cipher. However, his counsel, Shoaib Shaheen, contested the FIA’s request.
The FIA prosecutor conveyed to the court that Imran Khan, the detained leader of PTI, had also been subjected to interrogation regarding the case at Attock jail, according to sources.
Following the presentation of arguments, the court reserved its judgment on the FIA’s plea.
Subsequently, the judge disclosed the reserved verdict, directing FIA officials to produce Qureshi before the court on August 25 (Friday).
Earlier, Judge Hasnat instructed the expulsion of unauthorized individuals from the courtroom before the commencement of the closed-door hearing.
“It pertains to the Official Secrets Act; irrelevant individuals must exit,” remarked the judge.
A substantial deployment of Islamabad police was stationed outside the courtroom.
Inside the courtroom, PTI lawyers Shoaib Shaheen, Intizar Panjotha, Gohar Ali, and Ali Bukhari were in attendance, while junior lawyers from the party were instructed to depart.
In compliance with the law, the court proceedings will remain confidential.
The establishment of this specialized court occurs amidst a backdrop of contention over the approval of the Official Secrets Act by President Arif Alvi. The law was endorsed just days before the dissolution of the National Assembly on August 7.
Both Shah Mahmood Qureshi and PTI Chairman Imran Khan face charges under the act for allegedly exploiting diplomatic ciphers for political advantage.
The First Information Report (FIR) alleges that both the PTI chairman and the former foreign minister divulged classified document contents to unauthorized individuals, manipulating facts “for ulterior motives and personal gains in a manner detrimental to state security.”
The arrest of the PTI politician transpired on Saturday (August 19), while the FIA registered a case against Khan on August 15 under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923.
Cipher Controversy Unveiled: Timeline and Allegations
The cipher controversy emerged initially on March 27, 2022, shortly before Khan’s removal from office. He presented a letter, claiming it was a cipher from a foreign nation indicating his government’s removal.
In October 2022, the federal cabinet sanctioned action against the former prime minister concerning the matter and entrusted the case to the FIA.
The seriousness of the cipher case against the former premier escalated after his principal secretary, Azam Khan, affirmed before a magistrate and the FIA that the ex-PM had employed the US cipher for “political gains” and to avert a vote of no-confidence.
Azam Khan’s confession portrayed the ex-premier’s euphoria upon receiving the cipher and his perception of the language as a “US blunder.” The former prime minister allegedly suggested utilizing the cable to “craft a narrative against the establishment and opposition.”
Despite Azam’s advice against it, the PTI chairman purportedly employed the US cipher in political gatherings. The former prime minister indicated that the cipher could divert public attention toward “foreign involvement” in the opposition’s no-confidence motion.