In a recent development, Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and senior leader of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, have been sentenced to 10 years in prison in “Cipher Case.”
The charges against them pertain to the leaking of state secrets. This sentencing comes just few days before the upcoming general elections, scheduled for February 8. Imran Khan who is already serving a three-year jail term in a Toshakhana corruption case, has also been disqualified from participating in the elections.
PTI party spokesperson revealed that the leaders were charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a closed-door trial and the party intends to challenge the ruling.
What is Cipher Case?
The cipher case revolves around Imran Khan allegedly making public a classified cable “a cipher” sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in 2022. Khan and Qureshi were indicted by a Pakistani court on October 23, 2023. Following his removal as prime minister in April 2022, Khan accused the United States of being involved in his ouster, although both Washington and the Pakistani military denied the allegations.
In August 2023, a US-based news outlet “The Intercept” released what it described as a “cipher,” suggesting the US administration’s inclination to remove Khan from power. Despite maintaining that his removal in April 2022 was orchestrated by the influential military and political opponents, Khan faced additional scrutiny when The Intercept published purported details of a conversation held on March 7, 2022 between Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US Asad Majeed Khan and Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of state for the US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
This exchange occurred less than two weeks after Khan’s visit to Moscow, coinciding with the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. During the conversation, Lu expressed reservations about Khan’s visit to Russia and Pakistan’s neutral stance on the Ukraine war. Lu allegedly remarked, “I think if a no-confidence vote against the prime minister succeeds, all will be forgiven in Washington.” Asad Majeed Khan subsequently transmitted the details of this conversation to Islamabad through a confidential diplomatic cable.
Right to Appeal
Regarding the right to appeal in cipher case, authorities state that both Khan and Qureshi have the right to challenge Tuesday’s ruling. PTI has expressed its intention to contest the decision, labeling it as “illegal.” Khan’s legal team has raised concerns about the lack of representation during cipher case trial, asserting that the proceedings took place in jail and they were not given the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses.
This conviction in the cipher case adds to the more than 150 pending cases against Khan, including charges ranging from contempt of court to “terrorism” and inciting violence. 71 years old has been in jail since August last year and faces a complex legal landscape.
Toshakhana case, where Khan was convicted for not declaring assets, resulted in his disqualification from holding public office for five years. Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also barred his party from using its electoral symbol in the upcoming election. Despite these legal challenges, Khan remains a significant political force due to his grassroots following and anti-establishment stance, claiming that the legal cases are part of a plot to sideline him ahead of the vote.
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