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KARACHI: The disposal of the Nishtar Park bombing case may take a few more years as only around 20 of the over 200 witnesses have so far been examined, it emerged on Monday.

More than 50 people, including several religious leaders, were killed and over 100 others were wounded in the massive bombing that ripped through a congregation of the 12th Rabiul Awwal at the Nishtar Park in April 2006.

Sultan Mahmood alias Saifullah, Mufti Zakir Hussain Siddiqui, Mohammad Amin alias Khalid Shaheen, and Rehmatullah, said to be associated with the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, were held for their alleged involvement in the act of terrorism.

The inordinate delay in the disposal of the case is an obvious violation of the law, as Section 19 (7) of the Anti-terrorism Act 1997 says that on taking cognizance of a case the court shall proceed with the trial daily and shall decide it within seven days. And, in case of a delay, an application may be made to the administrative judge of the high court concerned for its expeditious disposal. However, court sources say the implementation of the anti-terror law is not possible in letter and spirit as Section 13 (2) of the ATA states that a court shall be assigned one case at a time, or in order to ensure that the time of the court is not wasted if for some reason a given case cannot proceed.

But all the five anti-terrorism courts functioning in the metropolis are overburdened and cannot meet these provisions. The trial of around 170 cases are pending in ATC-I, about 220 in ATC-II, over 200 in ATC-III and around 70 cases each before ATC- IV and V, leaving the courts with no option but to hear around 10 cases on a daily basis.

The Nishtar Park blast case is pending before anti-terrorism court-IV for evidence of prosecution witnesses. The case was sent to ATC-V in July 2007 for trial, but the home department took too long to issue a notification for jail trial. In 2008, ATC-V was shifted to Badin and the case was transferred to ATC-II for trial.

The then judge of ATC-II, Abdul Ghafoor Memon, indicted all the accused on May 4, 2009. They denied the charges levelled against them and opted to contest the case. But the prosecution had not examined even a single witness till August 2010, when Mohammad Amin filed an acquittal application under Section 265-K of the criminal procedure code. After hearing arguments from both sides, the court allowed the applicant’s plea and exonerated him for lack of evidence.

Following the acquittal of the accused, the court framed the amended charge against the remaining three accused in September 2009. The accused again denied the charges and the court also summoned witnesses. But no evidence was recorded till Nov 20, 2009 when the two-year contract of the then judge expired.

The case remained pending before the dysfunctional ATC-II for over 15 months and finally it was transferred to ATC-I. A court official said 18 witnesses had been examined in the case till March 2013, when it was sent to ATC-IV, where another witness was examined.

According to the prosecution, the massive bomb blast took place near the stage when participants in the 12th Rabiul Awwal congregation were offering Maghrib prayers at the Nishtar Park on April 11, 2006. Over 50 people, including Sunni Tehreek leaders Abbas Qadri and Iftikhar Bhatti and Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal leader Hafiz Taqi, were killed and over 100 others wounded.

The accused were arrested in the mid of 2007 and accused Sultan, already convicted in the Allama Hassan Turabi murder case, recorded his confessional statement before a judicial magistrate and also named his accomplices in the crime.

The prosecution added that the suicide bomber, who was identified as Siddiq, lived with the accused before the attack and they were also seen near the crime-scene at the time of the blast.

Amanullah, alias Mufti Ilyas; Qari Abid Iqbal and Khalid are the absconding accused in the case.

The case (FIR 71/06) was registered under Sections 302(premeditated murder), 324 (attempted murder), 109 (abetment if the act abetted is committed in consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment), 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 114 (abettor present when offence is committed) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section ¾ of the Explosive Act read with Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 at the Soldier Bazaar police station on a complaint of Mohammad Altaf Qadri.

Court sources said they feared that the trial might take a few more years to conclude as there were over 200 prosecution witnesses in the case, adding that an inordinate delay in notifying jail trial, dysfunction of the trial court, shifting of custody to the Sukkur prison and a lack of interest on part of the prosecuting and investigating agencies as well as the complainant were among the many causes delaying the disposal of the case.

They further said that though the government had appointed Mazhar Qayyum as special public prosecutor in the case, he remained absent for many months due to illness and his death further delayed the trial for want of a prosecutor.

The accused of the present case were also among dozens of prisoners shifted by the provincial government from the central prison Karachi to Hyderabad and Sukkur prisons in August 2012 apparently owing to security concerns and they remained there for around three months.

The sources said that only formal witnesses had so far been examined while three key witnesses, including a magistrate, had yet to turn up while the complainant also appeared to be reluctant to pursue the case.