What is cipher case leading to Imran Khan’s 10-year jail term?

New Delhi | Updated: 31 January, 2024 8:07 pm IST
Imran Khan faces a 10-year sentence in the cipher case. (Image credit: X)

NEW DELHI: In a stunning turn of events, former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and ex-Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi found themselves sentenced to 10 years in jail by a special court on Tuesday. The conviction was a result of the cipher case, a saga rooted in the disclosure of a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in early 2022. The revelation of this document has led to a web of accusations, conspiracy theories, and legal battles, raising questions about the intersections of international diplomacy and domestic politics.

What Is Classified Cable?

At the heart of the controversy lies a confidential cable detailing a meeting between US State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, and Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed Khan. The cable, protected under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923 of Pakistan, hasn’t been fully disclosed. However, in August 2023, The Intercept, an American news organisation, reproduced a section, claiming to have received it from a source within Pakistan’s military.

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The meeting discussed Imran Khan’s neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with Lu suggesting that forgiveness from Washington would follow if a no-confidence vote succeeded in ousting the Prime Minister. The cable, labelled “Secret,” was promptly sent to Islamabad by Asad Majeed Khan. Notably, the no-confidence vote took place just a day after this meeting, leading to Imran Khan’s subsequent removal from office.

Imran Khan’s Revelation And Legal Fallout

Imran Khan brought the secret document to public attention on March 27, 2022, during a large gathering in Islamabad. He alleged that the cable was proof of an international conspiracy to topple his government. In July 2023, the Pakistan Muslim League (N)-led government accused him of exposing an official secret document, claiming that this jeopardised Pakistan’s foreign relations.

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A month later, following The Intercept’s report, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) registered a First Information Report (FIR) against Imran under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923. This move marked a significant legal development, as violations of Section 5 can lead to imprisonment ranging from two to 14 years, and in extreme cases, even a death sentence.

Imran Khan’s Ongoing Legal Battles

In August 2023, Imran faced further legal complications when he was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison in the Toshakhana graft case. Although this sentence was later suspended, Imran remained behind bars due to other ongoing legal challenges. Moreover, he was barred from participating in the upcoming elections in February 2024, further complicating his political future.

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The Cipher Case’s Political Implications

The cipher case has far-reaching consequences beyond the courtroom. Imran Khan has consistently maintained that the US played a role in orchestrating his downfall through the no-confidence vote. The political discourse surrounding the case has amplified existing tensions, with implications for Pakistan’s foreign relations and domestic stability.

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