Islamabad High Court Acquits Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Cipher Case

In a significant legal development, the Islamabad High Court has acquitted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the high-profile cipher case. The bench, comprising Chief Justice Amir Farooq and Justice Mian Gul Hasan Aurangzeb, reserved judgment after hearing the appeals, and subsequently delivered a verdict favoring the appellants.

Details of the Judgment

The judgment, authored by Chief Justice Amir Farooq, was delivered shortly after the hearing. The court accepted the appeals filed by Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, overturning the earlier conviction by the trial court. The written decision clarified that Imran Khan’s appeal against his conviction in the cipher case was allowed, setting aside the trial court’s decision dated January 30, 2024. As a result, both leaders were acquitted of charges brought under the Official Secrets Act.

The judgment specifically noted that a case had been registered against Imran Khan under the Official Secrets Act on August 15, 2023, by the FIA’s Counter-Terrorism Wing. The court’s decision also stipulated that Imran Khan should be released if he is not detained in any other case.

Presence in Court

The verdict was announced in the presence of several prominent PTI leaders and family members. Key figures such as Barrister Gohar Khan, Ali Muhammad Khan, Faisal Javed, and Shandana Gulzar were present in the courtroom. Additionally, family members of both Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, including Qureshi’s wife and daughters, attended the session.

Reactions to the Verdict

Following the verdict, PTI Chairman Barrister Gohar Khan expressed his elation, stating that it was a victorious day for Pakistan and its 250 million people. He emphasized that justice had been served, and an unjust and baseless case had come to an end. This sentiment echoed the relief and joy felt by PTI supporters who saw the case as politically motivated.

Background of the Cipher Case

The cipher case has its roots in a controversial narrative constructed by Imran Khan, alleging foreign interference in his government. He claimed that messages or ciphers from the Pakistani ambassador to the US indicated a conspiracy led by the United States to overthrow his administration. This claim was, however, refuted by the National Security Committee during a meeting.

Adding to the controversy, an audio leak surfaced involving Imran Khan and his former secretary, Azam Khan, discussing the cipher. In the leaked audio, Imran Khan was heard instructing to play on the cipher without directly naming the US, indicating a potential strategy to leverage the issue for political gain.

Subsequently, the federal cabinet assigned the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate the matter. Azam Khan, who served as the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister during Imran Khan’s tenure, was a close confidant and played a central role in the alleged cipher narrative.

Earlier Convictions

Prior to the Islamabad High Court’s acquittal, a special court had sentenced both Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi to ten years of imprisonment with hard labor, under the charges related to the cipher case. This conviction had stirred significant political and public discourse, with PTI leaders and supporters decrying it as a politically motivated attack aimed at diminishing their influence.

The Cipher Controversy

The controversy surrounding the cipher began when Imran Khan, during his tenure as Prime Minister, claimed that a diplomatic cable (cipher) from the Pakistani ambassador to the US contained evidence of a conspiracy to oust his government. He alleged that the US was orchestrating his removal, a claim that was later discredited by the National Security Committee.

Further scrutiny of the issue arose with the leak of an audio clip where Imran Khan and Azam Khan discussed using the cipher for political purposes, emphasizing a strategic narrative rather than substantial evidence.

Official and Public Response

Former DG ISPR Lt. Gen. Babar Iftikhar also weighed in on the issue, describing the handling of the cipher as an attempt to create drama and spread false narratives for political advantage.

The Islamabad High Court’s decision to acquit Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi brings a significant chapter in Pakistan’s political and legal landscape to a close. It remains to be seen how this verdict will impact the broader political dynamics and the ongoing narrative battles in the country.