Imran Khan booked under Official Secrets Act in cipher case, says report

Khan is currently serving a three-year jail term after he was sentenced by a court in a corruption case earlier this month.

August 18, 2023 06:22 pm | Updated 06:36 pm IST - Islamabad

File photo of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

File photo of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. | Photo Credit: Reuters

In yet another blow to Imran Khan, the jailed former prime minister of Pakistan has been booked under the Official Secrets Act for making the content of a confidential diplomatic cable from the country's embassy in the US public, it emerged on August 18.

Khan, 70, is currently serving a three-year jail term after he was sentenced by a court in a corruption case earlier this month.

Quoting unnamed sources, a report in Geo News claimed that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman has been booked under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923 in the cipher case on the basis of a first information report (FIR) registered by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against him.

The counter-terrorism wing of the FIA had registered the case against the former Prime Minister after ascertaining his deliberate involvement in misusing the cipher (a classified diplomatic document) following a probe, the report said.

Imran Khan’s arrest | What’s next for Pakistan politics?

Offences under Section 5, if proved in a court of law, involve punishment of imprisonment from two to 14 years, and in some cases even a death sentence, the report said.

Citing the cipher, Khan has been alleging the U.S. of hatching a conspiracy to topple his government. He had brandished the cipher at a public rally to back his claims. The U.S. has time and again denied such allegations, terming them “categorically false”.

The purported cipher contained an account of a meeting between U.S. State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, and then Pakistani envoy Asad Majeed Khan.

Of late, the cricketer-turned-politician has come under increased scrutiny following the publication of a purported copy of the secret cable by the US media outlet The Intercept, with many in the previous government led by Shehbaz Sharif pointing fingers at the PTI chief for being the source of the leak.

Former interior minister Rana Sanaullah has said that if Khan had indeed lost the copy of the cipher provided to him, it would constitute a crime under the Official Secrets Act.

According to a recent report in Dawn newspaper, former principal secretary Azam Khan had handed over the cipher to the PTI chief, who later told him that he had misplaced it and did not return it despite repeated requests.

Citing the cipher, The Intercept in a report published earlier this month, said, "The US State Department encouraged the Pakistani government in a March 7, 2022, meeting to remove Imran Khan as prime minister over his neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine."

The publication, however, also stated it has made extensive efforts to authenticate the document but "given the security climate in Pakistan, independent confirmation from sources in the Pakistani government was not possible".

The U.S. State Department had said it could not verify the authenticity of the document.

The cipher case against Khan became serious after his principal secretary Azam Khan stated before a magistrate as well as the FIA that the former premier had used the U.S. cipher for his ‘political gains’ and to avert a vote of no-confidence against him last year, the Geo News report said.

In his confession, the former bureaucrat said when he provided Khan with the cipher, he was “euphoric” and termed the language a “US blunder”. Khan, according to Azam, then said that the cable could be used for “creating a narrative against establishment and opposition”, the report said.

Azam said the U.S. cipher was used in political gatherings by the PTI chairman, despite his advice to him to avoid such acts. He mentioned that the former prime minister also told him that the cipher could be used to divert the public’s attention towards “foreign involvement” in the opposition’s no-confidence motion against him.

Khan was ousted by the National Assembly after he lost a vote of no-confidence in April 2022, a development he alleged that Washington got involved in after he visited Moscow and met Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Khan travelled to Moscow in February 2022 and met President Putin on the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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