IHC dismissed post-arrest bail petition of Shah Mehmood Qureshi


ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday dismissed the post-arrest bail petition of former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the cipher case, with Chief Justice Aamer Farooq directing the trial court to conclude proceedings within four weeks.

The chief justice observed that the charges levelled against Mr Qureshi are punishable by death and, if proved, courts in such cases where the suspect faces grave charge avoid to extend relief of bail.

The case accuses him, along with Imran Khan, of “unauthorisedly” communicating the contents of a classified document received from Washington, with unauthorised people i.e. the public at large.

It is also alleged that Mr Qureshi and Imran Khan had a meeting on March 28, 2022 at Banigala, Islamabad, where a conspiracy was hatched to divulge the contents of the cipher for political advantage.

Mr Qureshi’s counsel contended that there was nothing on record to establish that the petitioner had divulged the contents of cipher to the public at large, hence provisions of sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 did not apply to him.

He said the prosecution’s case hinged upon the statement of Muhammad Azam Khan under sections 161 and 164 of CrPC and it was trite law that the statement of a co-accused was insufficient to implicate, or was a proof against, other accused persons.

He contended that currently the trial of the petitioner and the co-accused was taking place in Central Jail Adiala, Rawalpindi, which was a jail trial, notified on Oct 3. However, the notification did not mention the petitioner’s name, he said.

He argued that proceedings against Mr Qureshi were unlawful, as no order was made or notification issued with respect to his jail trial.

But FIA’s special prosecutor said charge against the petitioner was that he had aided, abetted and incited the principal accused, Imran Khan, hence his case fell under section 9 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and punishment for the referred offence was the same as of the principal offender, i.e. death or life imprisonment.

It was contended that charges had been framed and three of 28 witnesses of the prosecution had given their evidence.

Since the trial had commenced, the prosecutor said it would not be appropriate for the court to give any finding on merit as it would prejudice the matter.

The prosecution stated that contents of Mr Qureshi’s speech on March 27, 2022, clearly showed that he incited as well as aided and abetted the principal accused to divulge the contents of cipher to people.

Justice Farooq observed that under Section 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code, liability of the person, who abets the commission of offence, is that of a principal offender.

The court order stated, “Undoubtedly, bail ought not to be held as punishment but where sentence involved is death or life imprisonment, the court has to proceed with caution; in this regard, the balance is to be maintained that liberty of a person ought not be compromised but gravity of charge or allegation is also to be kept in view.”

Subsequently, the court dismissed the bail petition, but directed the Special Court (Official Secrets Act) “to conclude the trial within four weeks from the date of receipt of this order”.

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