ISLAMABAD, Feb 3: The acquittal of Khateeb Lal Masjid Maulana Aziz in all except one case has led to conjecture and speculation that a deal has been struck.
In 2009, Maulana Aziz was facing 27 cases in different courts including Anti Terrorism Court (ATC) of Rawalpindi.
Towards the end of January 2013, Maulana Aziz got off scot-free from the second last one in which he was accused of kidnapping police officials; he now only has one hurdle left.
He now only faces one case of harassing the shopkeepers of Aabpara and Jinnah Super — threatening them for selling Indian and English movies.
The case was registered against him a couple of months before the Lal Masjid operation was launched.
However, in this case too the chances are that he will be let go as the prosecution’s case is a weak one.
But what has led to the conjecture and gossip is the fact that though the cleric has been acquitted in more than two dozen cases, the government has not appealed against a single acquittal.
The state’s special prosecutor, Raja Faisal, who has appeared in the Lal Masjid cases argues that the main reason for the acquittal of Maulana Aziz in a number of cases were prosecution witnesses who either changed their testimony or never bothered to appear in the court.
He also blamed the poor investigation conducted by the Islamabad police.
In the Rangers murder case the government officials who earlier recorded their statements against the clerics including Maulana Aziz backtracked when they appeared in front of the ATC.
Before the investigation team they accused Maulana Aziz as well as others of giving the orders for firing and damaging government property.
However, once these people appeared before the ATC judge, they stated that when the mob was attacking government property they escaped from the scene. In the statement they recorded in the ATC, officials instead of directly blaming Maulana Aziz or any his associate for attacking government buildings, stated that at the time when a mob came out from the Lal Masjid and started setting the government building on fire, they escaped from the spot in order to save their lives.
Similarly, he said that the shopkeepers of Bhara Kahu who had lodged the complaint with the police that the inmates of Lal Masjid had burnt CDs of Hollywood and Bollywood films, also changed their statements.
In the court, these shopkeepers said that they offered to burn the CDs themselves.
According to Faisal, the police registered a number of cases against Aziz in a hurry but they did not have sufficient evidence.
Interestingly, in the case regarding kidnapping of four police officials, the civil judge cum judicial magistrate of Islamabad did not follow centuries old criminal procedure code (CrPC) – under this law, the witnesses’ statements are recorded after the indictment of an accused.
In the kidnapping case, neither the court nor the prosecution remembered the mandatory provision. The judge recorded the statements of eight witnesses before the indictment. Once this was even pointed out by the defence counsel in order to avert the legal complications. The matter of kidnapping of police officials was pending in the said court since 2007. The proceedings in the said case, however, were started in 2011. The court had completed recording of statements of the witnesses and concluded the arguments on December 22, 2012 when the defence counsel pointed out the lacuna in the court proceedings.
The judge, later, again asked the police to produce any witness to support the allegations they leveled in the FIR and in the challan against Maulana Aziz, and other accused persons including the cleric’s spouse Umme Hassan and other two clerics but the police did not produce any witness.
According to the legal expert, the judgment on the said kidnapping case could easily be challenged but the police seem in no mood to file an appeal against the verdict.
On the other hand, the chief commissioner Islamabad, Tariq Mehmood Pirzada, said that the government never went into any settlement with the Lal Masjid management and the acquittal of Maulana Aziz was purely a legal matter.
Even counsel of Lal Masjid, Maulana Mohammad Wajihullah Khan advocate, said that the Lal Masjid management never negotiated with the government over the cases pending in the court.
He said that the courts acquitted Maulana Aziz purely on merit and not because of an alleged settlement.
However, officials in the district administration told Dawn that the government had negotiated with the Lal Masjid management over the issue of reconstruction of Jamia Hafsa, a seminary for women, which had been demolished in the 2007 operation. Jamia Hafsa is currently being operated in Bahria Town.
The tensions between the Lal Masjid management and the government started in early 2001, when Maulana Aziz and his brother Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, who was killed in the operation, started delivering aggressive speeches against the Musharraf regime.
The first case against them was registered on September 28, 2001, for delivering fiery speeches.
During 2001 to 2005, the police registered 10 cases against the clerics. Five of these 10 cases have been booked under section of Anti Terrorism Act (ATA).
In one of the cases — carrying of illegal weapons — the then minister religious affairs, Mohammad Ijazul Haq, interfered and had them exonerated.
Ijazul Haq told Dawn that he had nothing to do with the Lal Masjid episode but tried his best to avert the operation. After the operation, I never remained in touch with these clerics nor tried to mediate any deal between the clerics with the government, he added.
From January to July 2007, the police registered a total of 22 cases against Maulana Aziz and his other associates.
Among the most famous cases were of abducting Aunti Shamim and her daughter, abduction of police officials, seizing official vehicles, launching FM Radio without obtaining prior permission of the government, CDs burning case, killing of Rangers’ official and sabotaging and damaging government property.