A special court in Pakistan has sentenced former Prime Minister Imran Khan and former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to 10 years in prison.
The ruling was handed down on Tuesday, January 30, in what is known as the cipher case, pertaining to the public disclosure of a classified diplomatic cable. Khan has maintained that the cable contained proof of a conspiracy to oust him from office, involving Pakistan’s powerful military and the US. After becoming Prime Minister in 2018, Khan was removed from power after losing a no confidence vote in Parliament in April, 2022.
Tuesday’s verdict comes just days before Pakistan is set to hold general elections on February 8. At present, both Khan and Qureshi stand barred from holding public office for a period of five years.
In August 2023, a special court was formed under the Official Secrets Act to hear the cipher case. Khan was imprisoned at the time, after he was convicted under the Toshakhana corruption case, and sentenced to three years in prison. Though his sentence was suspended, he was placed under judicial remand under the cipher case. Khan and Qureshi are being held at the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi.
On August 9, US-based news outlet, The Intercept, published an article containing the contents of the cipher (or diplomatic cable) sent by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US to Islamabad. The document detailed a March 2022 meeting between diplomat Asad Majeed Khan and US State Department officials, during which Khan’s stance on the war in Ukraine was discussed.
“[P]eople here and in Europe are quite concerned about why Pakistan is taking such an aggressively neutral position (on Ukraine)… I think if the no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister succeeds, all will be forgiven in Washington because the Russia visit is being looked at as a decision by the Prime Minister,” Assistant US Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, is quoted as saying.
Khan has alleged that the cipher was addressed by Lu to former military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa “as he had the power to topple the government.”
The Intercept stated that it had received the document from a source within the Pakistani military. In October 2023, Khan was indicted by the special court in proceedings held at the jail in Rawalpindi.
On December 21, the Islamabad High Court rejected Khan’s plea to have his conviction suspended in the Toshakhana case. On December 22, Pakistan’s Supreme Court granted bail to both Khan and Qureshi. However, Khan remained in jail given his conviction in the Toshakhana case and Qureshi was re-arrested soon after his release.
The embattled leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has had over 150 legal cases registered against him since April 2022. PTI and its supporters have faced a crackdown by state forces, with the party now stripped of its electoral symbol ahead of the polls. The media had also been prevented from covering the proceedings in the cipher case.
Khan has refuted reports that he had waved a copy of the cipher in his hand during a PTI rally and has stated that he was not in possession of the actual cipher. As per media reports, In his statement submitted to the court, Khan stated that the cipher was in the Prime Minister’s Office and was the only document that had “gone missing” from the office, adding that the security of the PMO lay with the military secretary.
PTI has rejected the proceedings as a “sham trial” and a “complete mockery and disregard of law.” Speaking outside the court on Tuesday, Khan’s lawyer, stated that his legal team had been “ousted from the proceedings…and they were not given the right to cross-examine and to defend their clients, this is unconstitutional,” adding that the legal team had been denied permission to enter the Adiala jail on Tuesday morning.
PTI has stated that it will file an appeal in the High Court.