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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC), on Wednesday, declared that the hearing of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s bail petition in the cipher case will be held in an open court.

A single bench of Chief Justice Aamer Farooq announced the verdict in an application of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) seeking in-camera proceedings of the case.

The IHC bench said that an open court hearing of the bail petition will be held on October 9. However, it said that arguments by lawyers on documents regarded as “sensitive” will be heard in-camera and the documents which are to be kept confidential will remain so after consulting with the counsels.

The bench had earlier reserved its verdict in the FIA’s application for in-camera proceedings in Imran Khan’s bail petition in the cipher case.

In this regard, the FIA Special Prosecutor, Shah Khawar, urged the court to hold an in-camera hearing of the case as an open court hearing could harm Pakistan’s diplomatic ties with other states and could pose a risk of deteriorating relations with the other countries.

During the last hearing, Justice Aamer asked whether the bail plea could be heard in-camera. At that, the FIA prosecutor informed that under the Official Secrets Act, a trial cannot be made public. He added that they would move a similar plea in the trial court as well.

Khawar asserted that there are some statements and information that cannot be made public. He further said that they also have to place statements related to other countries before the court and sharing such information in an open court can affect Pakistan’s diplomatic relations with the other countries.

At this, the IHC CJ observed that when the court would write its verdict on the bail plea it would be made public so why the hearing should be held in-camera?

Then, the bench asked about the SOPs for handling a cipher. To the court’s query, Additional Attorney General Munawwar Iqbal Dogal briefed the bench on the matter. On this occasion, Khawar stated that a cipher is sent by a Pakistan embassy in a coded form and it is de-coded at the Foreign Office. He continued that then a copy is sent each to the president, prime minister, army chief and director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence.

He explained that after it is seen by all the relevant offices, the copies are sent back to the Foreign Office where these are discarded. He added that only the real cipher stays at the Foreign Office.

Justice Aamer asked that are all the codes [for a cipher] universal. At this, AAG Dogal said that every country has a different coded message. The bench also asked how does the cipher come? Khawar informed the court that it comes in a coded form via email or fax.

In this matter, the PTI Chief’s lawyer, Salman Safdar opposed the FIA’s plea for an in-camera hearing. In his arguments, he contended that they had stated in the last hearing that they were okay with barring irrelevant people from the court.

The IHC chief justice remarked that during his nine years [as a justice] he has not heard any case in-camera. Safdar further argued that the FIA never moved such a plea when they argued the case in the trial court.

He also added that if there was any sensitive information in the case then it could be discussed in the chamber or it could be given in writing by the prosecution. He said that they were expecting live coverage of the case.

At this point, the IHC CJ informed the lawyer that a committee is tasked to prepare guidelines for the live streaming of court proceedings.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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