A special court here ruled on Tuesday that trial proceedings of jailed former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan in the cipher case will continue in prison in an open court setting after authorities did not present him for a hearing held at a normal court citing security concerns. The 71-year-old Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party chief has been incarcerated at the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi since September 26.
His in-prison trial had been going in the high-security jail until last week when the Islamabad High Court (IHC) declared it null and void on procedural grounds and also declared that the proceedings conducted so far were vitiated.
Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqernain presided over the hearing on Tuesday at the Federal Judicial Complex (FJC) in Islamabad, where authorities failed to produce Khan, citing security reasons.
“It has been informed that the PTI chairman faces security risks of a serious scale,” a report presented in the court by authorities said. Khan survived an assassination attempt in November 2022 during a political rally in Punjab province.
According to the report, intelligence agencies and the jail authorities raised concerns about life threats faced by the former premier, emphasising the gravity of the security risks.
Last week, the special court ordered authorities to present Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the Federal Judicial Complex for the hearing of the case.
Qureshi, 67, was also arrested in the cipher (secret diplomatic cable) case and is imprisoned in the Adiala jail. Khan and Qureshi have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
After hearing the case, the special court approved the duo’s jail trial in an open-court format at the next hearing. The court then adjourned the hearing of the case till December 1. The court noted that the jail authorities and security agencies had expressed their reservations about holding the trial at the FJC.
Anticipating potential security challenges, a meeting involving the police, administration, and relevant departments was convened on Monday to devise a comprehensive security plan for Khan’s appearance, The Express Tribune newspaper reported.
In its order, the court order stated that those who wished to attend the court proceedings would not be stopped and that journalists would also be permitted to witness the case.
It also said that five family members of each suspect would also be allowed inside the courtroom. The cipher case was launched in August this year after a case was filed against Khan for allegedly violating the Official Secrets Act by disclosing a secret diplomatic cable - called the cipher - sent by the country’s embassy in Washington in March last year.
The diplomatic cable reportedly went missing from Khan’s possession. Khan and Qureshi, who had claimed that the cable contained a threat from the United States to topple the PTI’s government, were indicted on October 23.
Khan was ousted through a vote of no-confidence in April 2022. More than 150 cases have been registered against him since his ouster from power.