- PPP rejects ‘shocking, disappointing’ verdict, likely to challenge it
The Federal Ministry for Interior has directed the Adiala jail authorities to keep the five accused, associated with the defunct Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in the Benazir Bhutto murder case in their custody for 30 days, reports said.
According to reports, the ministry directed the jail officials to continue detaining Rafaqat Hussain, Hasnain Gul, Sher Zaman, Aitzaz Shah and Abdul Rasheed under the relevant laws for a month.
The five accused persons had been acquitted of the high-profile murder case by an anti-terrorism court on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has rejected the ATC verdict, saying it will explore legal options to challenge the “shocking, disappointing” decision in higher courts.
This was decided in a meeting of the party leadership chaired by PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari.
A statement issued by the party after the meeting said that justice was not done in the case. The acquittal of al Qaeda and Taliban suspects despite evidence is shocking and is apparently a victory for militants, it added.
The PPP statement said that the identity of those who had ordered to clean the crime scene and remove evidence was not determined, adding that the government had filed the case without taking the party into confidence, therefore it should appeal the decision. On its part, the PPP meeting decided that they will consider legal options to become a party to the case and appeal the court’s decision.
The ATC on Thursday announced the verdict in the Benazir murder case almost after 10 years, sentencing two police officers to 17 years imprisonment for being “negligent” while acquitting the five suspects belonging to the TTP—who were indicted in 2008. The court also declared then-president Pervez Musharraf an absconder in the case.
The verdict was announced by judge Muhammad Asghar Khan under strict security arrangements at Rawalpindi’s Adiyala Jail.
The policemen—former Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz and Rawal Town’s former Superintendent Police (SP) Khurram Shehzad—who were out on bail, and were present in the court at the time of the verdict, have already been arrested.
The former policemen were awarded 10 years in prison under Section 119 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and seven years each under Section 201 of the PPC, making it 17 years each. They have also been fined Rs500,000 each; in case they do not pay the fine, they will have to spend another six months in the jail, said the court.
While the TTP suspects, Aitzaz Shah, Sher Zaman, Abdul Rasheed, Rafaqat Hussain and Hasnain Gul, who were indicted by the ATC in November 2008, were cleared of all charges.
They were charged with killing, hatching a criminal conspiracy to kill, assisting the perpetrators, using illegal explosive material and spreading terrorism on Dec 27, 2007—the day when Benazir along with 22 people were killed in an attack outside Liaquat Bagh.
Hasnain Gul and Rafaqat’s legal counsel told the court that the statements received from his clients hold Musharraf, among others, responsible for the crime. He also claimed that there is no solid proof against his clients. “There is a conflict between investigating officers’ statements and the weapons recovered from the scene of the crime,” he added.
The court, while issuing the perpetual arrest warrants for Musharraf’s arrest, also ordered the authorities to seize his property. Apart from Musharraf, Baitullah Mehsud, Ahmad Gul, Iqramullah, Abdullah, and Faizullah have also been declared absconders.
This high-profile case that started in February 2008 took 10 years and eight judges to reach a verdict. Some 68 witnesses out of over 100 appeared; police presented three challans whereas the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) presented five. The case investigations started with police but when the PPP came into power it handed over the investigation to the FIA.
During the course of the hearing, the TTP suspects’ legal counsel, while pleading mercy for his clients, blamed Benazir’s death on the United States. He said she deviated from the US policy which led to her assassination.
Special Prosecutor Federal Investigation Agency Khawaja Mohammad Imtiaz told journalists after the verdict that there was a security lapse and the crime scene was washed only hours after the incident.
The washing out of the scene was a cause for concern as it indicates this was done in order to wipe out evidence, and the area wasn’t cordoned off as per the standard procedure worldwide, he said.
He said the former Rawalpindi CPO did not send bodies for post mortem, thus acting as a facilitator to the perpetrators of the attack and keeping the body in custody for seven hours.
Firing and a blast clearly merit an FIR and post-mortem, he said, adding he would consult the higher ups following the verdict and present recommendations for further measures.
Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, had been assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack in Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. At least 23 Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) workers had also died in the incident.