ISLAMABAD: The proceeding in the Mumbai attacks case has come to a standstill as the special judge of the anti-terrorism court (ATC) has expressed his inability to conduct the trial of seven Pakistani suspects in the Adiala Jail due to security reasons.
Since March 3, when terrorists attacked the district courts in Islamabad, there has been no progress on the trial with the ATC unable to complete the cross examination of even a single witness, sources close to the proceedings told Dawn.
They said ATC Judge Atiqur Rehman had stopped going to the Adiala Jail for the trial of the suspects. The Adiala Jail is about 30 kilometres away from the ATC located in the special court complex at sector G-11/4.
The suspects are: the alleged mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hammad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younus Anjum.
The case is related to the killing of 166 people in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 by terrorists who New Delhi claims had support of the Pakistani suspects.
The proceedings commenced in the ATC Rawalpindi in 2009. The case was transferred to the ATC Islamabad last year.
After the district courts attack on March 3 in which 12 people, including an additional district and sessions judge, were killed, the ATC judge demanded that the federal government should deploy Rangers for his security.
However, the government seems reluctant to provide the requisite security to the judge.
The court was hearing the matter on a weekly basis but there has been no development at all for the last four weeks, the sources said, adding on April 2 the ATC only summoned a single witness Mohammad Ali but the defence counsel, Raja Rizwan Abbasi, raised objection to his statement.
According to sub-section 7 of section 19 of the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997, which defines the procedure and power of the ATC, “the court shall proceed with the trial on a daily basis and decide the case within seven working days.”
The law further says that if the court does not meet this deadline, an application may be made to the administrative judge of the high court concerned to pass “appropriate directions” to ensure “expeditious disposal of the case to meet the end of justice.”
Advocate Abbasi, who is representing Lakhvi and other suspects, when contacted, confirmed that there was no progress on the case for about a month.
He said the federal government was responsible for the delay as the ATC judge had refused to conduct the jail trial of the accused persons because of security reasons.
“Had the federal government provided the requisite security to the judge, the proceedings would not have been delayed,” he added.
It may be mentioned that out of about 60 witnesses, the ATC has so far completed cross examination of 32 prosecution witnesses.
Advocate Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry, the special prosecutor of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), on the other hand, said the prosecution was trying to complete the trial as early as possible.
He said owing to the threats and delay in the trial, it has been decided that instead of going to the Adiala Jail the judge would exempt the accused from attending the proceedings and record their statements in his courtroom.
According to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), the presence of the accused during the recording of statements and cross-examination of the witnesses is mandatory.
The court, however, has the power to exempt the attendance of the accused on justifiable grounds.