Islamabad, June 3: In a major development for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday acquitted party Chief and former Prime Minister Imran Khan along with the former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the cipher case, nullifying their 10-year sentence.

As per the order given by IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hasan, it was observed that there was lack of evidence in the case as the primary issue of the cipher and its contents were never presented before the court. Pakistan: Ex-PM Imran Khan Acquitted in Two Cases Linked to May 9 Riots Due to Insufficient Evidence.

The judgment holds massive significance for both Khan and Qureshi as it not only trims down their 10-year prison sentence but also vindicates their stance that the earlier verdict given by a special court was based on political motives to keep them and their party out of the election race.

"Today is a day of celebration for all Pakistanis. Truth has won and justice has prevailed as the baseless case has been quashed," said PTI Chairman Gohar Ali Khan. He insisted that Khan, who has spent 10 months in jail in the case, will walk free soon as such "baseless cases" are framed only for "political victimisation". Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf Seeking to Return to Power with Establishment Support, Says PML-N Leader Rana Sanaullah.

Another senior PTI leader, Shibli Faraz said that the party has seen very difficult days and suffered badly because of politically-motivated cases against its top leadership. "Imran Khan is a true patriot. Despite being in jail in these difficult conditions, he has not done any deal nor has he sent his apology to anyone," he said.

"Other leaders from PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz) and PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) would have immediately left the country. But, Khan is fighting bravely because he has dedicated his life to the people of Pakistan," he added. Salman Safdar, the lawyer who represented Khan and Qureshi in the cipher case, said Monday's verdict is a result of a tedious three-month struggle and the courage of the High Court judges.

"The government failed miserably in proving its case before the court. The prosecutors had to step back from their principal position. Hats off to the honourable judges. Imran Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi have not committed any anti-state activity. We had made it clear from the first day that we want to argue on the merits of the case and that we will demand acquittal in the case," he added.

In March 2022, Khan delivered a speech at a public gathering in Islamabad, during which he waved a document, claiming it to be the cipher letter, in which, Donald Lu, the then US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs had warned of serious consequences for Pakistan if Khan would survive the Vote of No Confidence (VONC).

The meeting detail between the US diplomat and the then Pakistani Ambassador to the US Asad Majeed was communicated to the Pakistan Foreign Office through a coded cipher communication letter marked "confidential", which was shared with then-premier Imran Khan.

The case framed against Khan and Qureshi alleged that the cipher document was misplaced and its sensitive contents were leaked and waved in the public gathering. The case alleged that Khan later used the secret document and its classified information for personal and political gains.

Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) started a probe into the cipher gate case in July 2023 after the announcement of an official inquiry by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government under the premiership of Shehbaz Sharif.

Khan was later arrested in August after being convicted in the Toshakhana case and was also declared arrested in the cipher case. Both Khan and Qureshi were charged under section 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) of the Pakistan Army, which meant that the provision could result in a possible death penalty or life imprisonment for both.

Earlier this year, a special court established under the Official Secret Act awarded Imran and Qureshi to at least 10-year imprisonment in the high-profile case. PTI, through its lawyer Safdar, appealed against the convictions in the Islamabad High Court.

"If the information has been twisted, then it should be known what the information was," stated Chief Justice Farooq during the hearing on Monday. The IHC verdict maintained that the prosecution "failed to link the alleged crime with revealing secrets concerning the armed forces and sensitive areas to foreign powers".

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Jun 03, 2024 08:19 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website