Cipher Case Saga Ends: Imran Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi Acquitted by Islamabad High Court

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan and ex-Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi have been acquitted by the Islamabad High Court in the high-profile ‘cipher case’. The case, which had been a focal point of national attention, accused the two leaders of compromising state secrets.

The ‘cipher case’ emerged as the most severe of the three convictions that Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister, faced in the run-up to the general elections held on February 8. Both Khan and Qureshi were sentenced to ten years of rigorous punishment for allegedly leaking a confidential cable, thereby threatening the security, integrity, and credibility of Pakistan’s communication system with its foreign missions.

The conviction resulted in Qureshi’s disqualification from participating in the general elections. Khan had already been deemed ineligible due to a prior conviction in the Toshakhana case.

The Islamabad High Court’s verdict marks a significant moment for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI Party), which Khan founded and led during his term as Prime Minister from 2018 – 2022. The court’s decision was met with relief and celebration among PTI leaders, who hailed it as a victory for justice.

Despite the acquittal, Khan will remain in prison due to a conviction in another case. The former Prime Minister has been convicted in four cases and awaits other trials, with more than 150 lawsuits filed against him since his ouster.

The cipher case verdict was secured on the state’s third attempt at prosecution. The Islamabad High Court had previously aborted two trials due to serious irregularities in the proceedings. The trial court’s sentence was widely criticized by the legal community, many of whom pointed out the abnormal circumstances under which the trial was completed.

The Foreign Office, shortly after the conviction, affirmed through a statement that its communication system had been audited and found to be safe and protected. This affirmation undermined the most significant charge that Khan and Qureshi were found guilty of – compromising the country’s secure diplomatic communication system.

In retrospect, the use of the cipher as a political prop by Khan and Qureshi was a historical blunder that caused an international diplomatic incident. However, the legal community was nearly unanimous in their belief that the verdict would be overturned.

The saga of the cipher case offers numerous lessons. It underscores the importance of due process and the need for the state to avoid victimizing political figures. The case also highlights the potential consequences of using sensitive diplomatic communications for political gain.

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