ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani judge ruled on Tuesday the trial of prime minister Imran Khan in a case in which he is accused of leaking state secrets would be held in jail but members of the public and media would have access.
Khan, who is the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, is being held at Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail, serving a three-year sentence in a separate case in which he was convicted in August of failing to disclose assets earned from the sale of state gifts while he was PM from 2018-2022. Khan is also accused in a number of other cases, including what has come to be called the cipher case, in which he has been indicted for leaking official secrets and using them for political gains.
The government had announced in August that the trial in the cipher case would be held in jail for “security reasons,” and a special court had since been conducting the trial on the prison premises, with no members of the public or media allowed. Last week, however, the Islamabad High Court declared the confidential proceedings illegal, following appeals by Khan’s lawyers that their client would not be given a fair trial behind closed doors.
Public hearings in the matter began last Thursday at the Judicial Complex in Islamabad, but Khan did not appear and the case was adjourned until Nov. 28, with the court directing the ex-premier, and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who has also been indicted in the case, to appear in person on that date.
Khan and Qureshi, who have both pleaded not guilty, were not brought to the court on Tuesday when the judge ruled that the trial would continue in jail but media and the public would be allowed access to the court proceedings. Five family members of each suspect would also be allowed to attend the hearing.
The next hearing has been set for Dec. 1 at Adiala Jail.
“The jail officials are saying that he [Khan] cannot be presented,” the judge remarked after reviewing a report submitted by Adiala jail authorities.
Lawyers representing Khan and Qureshi objected to the report and urged the court to implement its previous order that the duo be presented in court.
“It was their [jail authorities] responsibility to present the suspect [Khan] in the court,” Salman Safdar, who is representing Khan, said.
Safdar also rubbished reports by intelligence agencies that there was a threat to Khan’s life, saying it was the state’s responsibility to provide him security.
“If there are security threats, then please adjourn this hearing for an indefinite period,” Safdar urged the court. “The accused should be granted bail if the jail authorities could not present him here for the trial.”
Qureshi’s lawyer also argued that it was “court’s responsibility to get its [production] orders implemented”:
“If the court orders are not implemented, you [the judge] have the authority to send the government officials to jail.”
Khan had been appearing in courts prior to his August arrest protected by his personal security guards. But he has also sought exemptions from personal appearances, often citing threats to his safety.
Khan, arguably the most popular politician in the country, has not been seen since he was arrested in August. Before that, he would regularly address his millions of followers via social media and hold massive public rallies and protest marches.
The cipher case relates to an alleged diplomatic correspondence between Washington and Islamabad that Khan says was proof that his ouster as PM in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April 2022 was part of a US conspiracy to remove him. Washington has repeatedly denied Khan’s accusations.
A special court was formed on Aug. 21 under the Official Secrets Act, 1923, to adjudicate the case through in-camera proceedings. Khan and Qureshi were indicted in the case last month.
Last week, the Pakistan government also approved Khan’s jail trial in a separate case of a £190 million settlement with a property tycoon.
Khan is currently being held at Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail where he is serving a three-year jail sentence.