–LHC acquits six CTD personnel accused of killing three innocent civilians giving them ‘benefit of doubt’
–JIT probe had confirmed that Khalil’s family was innocent and CTD officials were responsible for their killing
LAHORE: A special anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Thursday acquitted all accused in the Sahiwal encounter case, giving them the benefit of doubt.
The court announced the verdict after the accused persons’ lawyers completed cross-questioning of the testimonies of government witnesses.
ATC-I Judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta heard the case.
During hearings of the case, the court had recorded statements of 49 witnesses, including close relatives of a victim Zeeshan and another victim Mohammad Khalil. During the proceedings, all the the accused – namely Safdar Hussain, Ahsan Khan, Ramzan, Saifullah, Hasnain and Nasir Nawaz – appeared before the court.
The injured witnesses [children of Khalil who were accompanying the victim when he was targeted] had not identified the suspects nor were the suspects identified during photogrammetric tests. The court added that the official who had provided the suspects with the weapons said he was returned all the weapons and bullets.
In January, Mohammad Khalil, his wife and their three children were travelling in a car, with their neighbour Zeeshan behind the steering wheel, when Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) personnel stopped the vehicle and opened fire on the passengers suspecting them to be terrorists. Khalil’s three children Umair, Muneeba and Jaziba had survived the attack.
The suspects said that they had information that Zeeshan had links with a terrorist outfit. They also claimed that all the victims were killed in an ‘encounter’ which turned out to be false after the two minor children narrated facts of the incident to the public.
While the CTD dubbed it an ‘encounter’, the victims’ family maintained that they were going to attend a wedding. The family’s claim proved true as it later transpired that except for Zeeshan, all other occupants of the car were innocent.
A joint investigation team formed to probe into the incident confirmed that the family was innocent and that the CTD officials were responsible for their killing.
Subsequently, the Punjab government removed some top CTD officials and suspended others, while announcing that six CTD officials responsible for the killings would be tried on terrorism and murder charges.
Initially, the trial was conducted in Sahiwal, however, the Lahore High Court on June 17 shifted the proceedings to Lahore allowing an application filed by the victims’ family. The petitioners contended that they had been facing problems while attending trial proceedings in Sahiwal. They also cited security reasons and asked the court to shift the trial proceedings from Sahiwal to Lahore.
It may be mentioned here that the CTD has repeatedly been accused of pressuring the victims’ family to drop the case.
At a press conference, the family’s lawyer Shahbaz Bukhari presented a seven-minute recorded call wherein a CTD official threatened his life.
Due to apprehensions expressed by the victims’ family over the JIT, the Lahore High Court ordered a judicial inquiry. The judicial inquiry led by civil judge-cum-judicial magistrate Shakeel Goraya recorded the statements of 49 people including eyewitnesses, CTD suspects amongst others.