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December 8, 2023 9:49 am

Pakistan: Special court formed to hear cases under Official Secrets Act; former foreign minister Qureshi presented before it

Islamabad, August 21

The Pakistan government on Monday established a special court to hear cases filed under the Official Secrets Act and former prime minister Imran Khan’s close aide and ex-foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was presented before it for the hearing of the cipher case registered against him under the stringent law.

Qureshi, the vice chairman of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was arrested on Saturday by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in connection with the leakage of a confidential diplomatic cable last year.

The purported cipher (secret diplomatic cable) contained an account of a meeting between US State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, and Pakistani envoy Asad Majeed Khan last year.

Judge Abual Hasnat, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) judge, who is hearing the case registered against Qureshi under the Official Secrets Act, ordered the expelling of unauthorised people from the courtroom, prior to the start of the in-camera hearing, Geo News reported.

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

The FIA team was however present in the court where a heavy contingent of Islamabad police was deployed outside the courtroom.

The lawyers of PTI were also present inside the courtroom, while the party’s junior lawyers were ordered to leave.

At the outset of the hearing, the FIA prosecutor sought Qureshi’s physical remand for the recovery of the alleged missing cipher while advocate Shaheen opposed FIA’s plea.

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”.

Qureshi, 67, was arrested in the case on Saturday, while a case against Khan, 70, was registered by the FIA on August 15, invoking Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923.

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

Azam said the US cipher was used in political gatherings by the PTI chairman, despite his advice to him to avoid such acts.

He has said that Khan 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.

Khan is currently serving a three-year jail term after he was sentenced by a court in a corruption case earlier this month.

Khan was ousted by the National Assembly after he lost a vote of no-confidence in April 2022, a development he alleged that Washington got involved in after he visited Moscow and met Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Khan traveled to Moscow in February last year and met President Putin on the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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