Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was sentenced by a lower court in the case on charges of making public a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS file

ISLAMABAD: A high court in Pakistan acquitted jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday from a conviction on charges of leaking state secrets, what is commonly known as the cipher case, his lawyer and his party said, but Khan will remain in prison for now due to a conviction in another case.

Khan, 71, was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a lower court on charges of making public a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan's ambassador in Washington in 2022.

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Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was Khan's foreign minister during his tenure from 2018-2022, was also acquitted of the charges.

What is cypher case?
Imran Khan is charged with making public a classified cable — a cipher — sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in 2022.
“Cipher” refers to a system of secret writing or encoding and it indicates that the content of the cable is encrypted or encoded to prevent unauthorised access or interception.
Khan and Qureshi were indicted by a Pakistani court on October 23 last year.
Immediately after his removal as prime minister in April 2022, Khan said that the United States had a hand in his removal.
Washington denied his accusations. Khan later toned down his rhetoric against the US.
But a US-based news outlet, The Intercept, in August 2023 published what it claimed to be a “cipher” that hinted the US administration wanted to remove Khan from power.
Khan maintains his ouster in April 2022 was orchestrated by his political opponents.
The Intercept published purported details of a conversation between Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed Khan, and Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of state for the US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, on March 7, 2022.

"Thank God, the sentence is overturned," a spokesman for legal affairs from Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Naeem Panjutha, said in a post on the X social media platform.

Despite the acquittal, Khan will remain in prison, having also been convicted in another case relating to his marriage to his third wife, Bushra Khan, contravening Islamic traditions.

The conviction was one of three slapped on Khan in the runup to February elections, which he claims were orchestrated to prevent his return to power.

The decision by a two-member bench at Islamabad High Court was announced by Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, an AFP court reporter witnessed.

"This is the first big case which was part of the political victimisation against Imran Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi which has been dashed to the ground," Salman Safdar, a lawyer for Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, told AFP outside of court.

Khan was convicted along with Qureshi, his former foreign secretary, of making public a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan's ambassador in Washington in 2022.

It’s a huge political and legal victory,” journalist and political analyst Mazhar Abbas told Reuters, but cautioned that it would be premature to say that Khan would be released anytime soon.

Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, was banned from contesting the February election, but candidates backed by the jailed leader still won the most seats. They did not have the numbers to form a government, which was instead led by an alliance of his rivals led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The government, which says Khan broke clauses of the state secrets law by revealing contents of a secret diplomatic cable, said prosecutors were awaiting the detailed decision before deciding if they would appeal against the acquittal in the Supreme Court.

“It is a fact that a national security document was used for political purposes,” government spokesman for legal issues Aqeel Malik said in a press conference after the decision, adding that the government would not compromise on national security.

Other cases keeping former Pakistan PM Imran Khan in jail
UNLAWFUL MARRIAGE CASE: Khan and his wife, Bushra Khan, also known as Bushra Bibi, are serving seven-year jail terms after a trial court ruled that their 2018 marriage broke the law.
An appeal against this case is being heard by a sessions court.
They were charged with not completing the waiting period mandated by Islam, called “Iddat”, after Bibi divorced her previous husband. They signed their marriage contract, or “Nikkah”, in January 2018 in a secret ceremony.
STATE GIFTS CASES: Khan was handed jail sentences — one of 14 years and the other three years — in two cases pertaining to illegally acquiring and selling state gifts. Both sentences have been suspended by high courts while his appeals are heard.
Also known as the Toshakhana or state treasury case, Khan and his wife are charged with selling gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) in state possession, which he received during his 2018-2022 premiership.
The gifts included diamond jewellery and seven watches, six of them Rolexes - the most expensive being valued at 85 million rupees ($304,000).
ABETTING VIOLENCE: Khan is facing a trial under anti-terrorism charges in connection with violence against the military and other state installations that erupted following his brief arrest in May last year.
A number of Khan’s supporters have been sentenced by military courts, but the case against Khan is ongoing.