Cipher Case: FIA Advises IHC Against Open Court Trial, Citing Potential Damage to Pakistan’s International Relations

Cipher Case

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) urged the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to consider an in-camera hearing for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s bail plea in the cipher case, expressing concerns about potential harm to the country’s international relations if an open court trial were to proceed.

FIA Special Prosecutor Shah Khawar made this request following a short break during the court proceedings. Prior to the break, the IHC decided to address the FIA’s plea for an in-camera hearing alongside Imran Khan’s bail petition.

When the court reconvened after the break, the IHC Chief Justice inquired about the possibility of an in-camera hearing for the bail plea. However, Khawar explained that the Official Secrets Act prohibits publicizing the trial, and they planned to make a similar plea in the trial court. He emphasized that certain statements and information cannot be made public, including those related to other countries, as disclosing such information in an open court could jeopardize Pakistan’s diplomatic ties.

In response, IHC Chief Justice Farooq questioned the need for an in-camera hearing when the verdict on the bail plea would eventually be made public.

The court also sought information on the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for handling a cipher. Additional Attorney General Munawar Iqbal Dogal provided an explanation, with Khawar adding that a cipher is initially sent in coded form from a Pakistan embassy, decoded at the Foreign Office, and copies are distributed to the president, prime minister, army chief, and director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence before being returned to the Foreign Office, where they are eventually discarded, leaving only the authentic cipher.

Imran Khan’s lawyer, Salman Safdar, opposed the FIA’s request for an in-camera hearing, suggesting that sensitive information could be discussed privately or provided in writing by the prosecution. He also mentioned the expectation of live coverage of the case. The IHC Chief Justice informed him that a committee is working on guidelines for live streaming of court proceedings.

The IHC reserved its verdict on the matter, and CJ Farooq indicated that a new hearing date would be announced.

Last week, the IHC had initially ruled that the hearing on Imran Khan’s bail plea in the cipher case would be held in open court. However, the FIA had requested in-camera proceedings due to the presence of “privileged” and “sensitive” documents and information, prompting the court to ask for a formal petition for such proceedings.

Additionally, the IHC is expected to announce its verdict on Imran Khan’s bail plea in nine other cases, including those related to the May 9 incidents, protests in Islamabad, the Toshakhana case, violation of Section 144, and attempted murder charges. Khan had requested that authorities be barred from arresting him in these cases until a final decision is reached, and the courts be instructed to decide them on merit.

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