Cipher case: Special court grants Qureshi's 4-day remand to FIA under secrets law

Arfa Feroz Zake

A special court in Islamabad, formed on Monday to hear cases filed under the Official Secrets Act, has granted Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) four-day physical remand of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi in a cipher case. 

Qureshi, who was arrested on Saturday by the FIA, was presented before the special court today for the hearing of a cipher case registered under the same act.

Judge Abual Hasnat, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) judge, conducted the hearing on the case registered against Qureshi under the Official Secrets Act.

At the outset of the hearing, the FIA prosecutor sought Qureshi’s 13-day physical remand for the recovery of the alleged missing cipher while his counsel Shoaib Shaheen opposed the FIA's plea.

The FIA prosecutor informed the court that incarcerated PTI chief Imran Khan was also interrogated in connection with the investigation into the case at Attock jail, the sources said. 

After hearing the arguments, the court reserved the verdict on the FIA's plea.

After a while, the judge announced the reserved verdict and ordered the FIA officials to present Qureshi before the court on August 25 (Friday).

Earlier, Judge Hasnat ordered expelling unauthorised people from the courtroom, prior to the start of the in-camera hearing.

“It is a matter of the Official Secrets Act, irrelevant people should leave,” the judge said.

A heavy contingent of Islamabad police was deployed outside the courtroom.

PTI lawyers Shoaib Shaheen, Intizar Panjotha, Gohar Ali and Ali Bukhari are present inside the courtroom, while the party’s junior lawyers were ordered to leave.

Proceedings of the court will remain in camera in line with the law.

The establishment of the court comes amid controversy over the approval of the Official Secrets Act by President Arif Alvi. The law was greenlit a couple of days before the dissolution of the National Assembly on August 7.

Both Qureshi and PTI Chairman Imran Khan have been charged under the act for using the diplomatic cipher for political gains.

The FIR stated that both the PTI chairman and the former foreign minister revealed the contents of the classified document to unauthorised persons and twisted facts “for ulterior motives and personal gains in a manner prejudicial to the interests of state security”.

The PTI politician was arrested in the case on Saturday (August 19), while a case against Khan was registered by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on August 15, invoking Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923.

What is the cipher case?

The cipher controversy first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Khan — just days before his ouster — brandished a letter, claiming that it was a cipher from a foreign nation, which mentioned that his government should be removed from power.

In October 2022, the federal cabinet gave the green signal to initiate action against the former prime minister pertaining to the matter and handed over the case to the FIA.

The cipher case against the former premier became serious after his principal secretary Azam Khan stated before a magistrate as well as the FIA that the former PM had used the US cipher for his ‘political gains’ and to avert a vote of no-confidence against him.

The former bureaucrat, in his confession, said when he provided the ex-premier with the cipher, he was “euphoric” and termed the language a “US blunder”. The former prime minister, according to Azam, then said that the cable could be used for “creating a narrative against establishment and opposition”.

Azam said the US cipher was used in political gatherings by the PTI chairman, despite his advice to him to avoid such acts. He mentioned that the former prime minister also told him that the cipher could be used to divert the public’s attention towards “foreign involvement” in the opposition’s no-confidence motion.