IHC clears Imran Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi in cipher case

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has nullified the convictions of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the party’s Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the high-profile cipher case. This decision was announced on Monday by a bench comprising IHC Chief Justice Aamir Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb.

Khan and Qureshi had been sentenced to 10 years each in prison earlier this year, in a case that accused them of exposing the contents of a secret diplomatic cable. The case, which had been registered under the Official Secrets Act, centered around allegations that Khan had publicly disclosed a confidential communication sent by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington to the government in Islamabad.

The controversy, often referred to as “ciphergate,” first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Khan, addressing a public rally less than a month before his ouster, waved a letter before the crowd. He claimed it was a cipher from a foreign nation conspiring with his political rivals to topple the PTI government. Although he initially did not reveal the contents or the source nation, he later accused the United States of plotting against him, specifically naming Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu as seeking his removal. The cipher reportedly detailed a meeting between Pakistan’s then-ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed, and Lu.

Following Khan’s public disclosure, the National Security Committee (NSC) took up the matter on March 31, 2022, deciding to issue a strong demarche to the US for its alleged interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs. However, after Khan’s removal, his successor, then-Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, convened another NSC meeting which concluded that there was no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cable.

The case gained further notoriety with two audio leaks that surfaced online, purportedly featuring Khan, former federal minister Asad Umar, and former principal secretary Azam Khan discussing how to leverage the US cipher to their advantage.

The IHC’s decision to nullify the convictions is seen as a major relief for PTI, providing a significant boost to the party’s leadership amidst ongoing political turmoil in Pakistan.

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