It was in May 1994 when Maulana Sufi Mohammad, chief of the proscribed Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM), rose to prominence by leading a week-long sit-in of hundreds of people on the Malakand-Swat Road. They were demanding the enforcement of Sharia laws in Malakand Division and were averse to any move by the then government to introduce the judicial system in place in the rest of the country.
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Twenty years have passed since, and Maulana Sufi, also a former district councillor, has been in prison for 12 of them. The life of this hardline cleric, whose views regarding the Constitution of Pakistan and the existing judicial system are known to all, has seen several twists and turns during this period.
Successive governments did not adopt a uniform policy towards him — primarily responsible for his non-conviction in cases registered against him. Sometimes he was portrayed as the root cause of all the death and destruction witnessed by the inhabitants of Malakand, especially Swat, while at other times, the government saw him as a saviour who could restore peace to the region. In 2009, the year a peace deal was signed with his proscribed organisation, he was exercising much influence and had even stopped regular courts from functioning there.
The last time he was arrested was in July 2009 from Sethi Town in Peshawar after the launch of the final stage of the military operation in Malakand. The euphoria following his arrest and the hype created by the government has now subsided as he has already spent six years in prison — without being convicted in any of the cases in which he was charged with terrorism.
“The provincial government entered into an agreement with the TNSM following which Maulana Sufi was set free in April 2008. Following that deal, the prosecution had withdrawn from most of the cases with the permission of the courts concerned under Section 494 of the code of criminal procedure,” said the defence counsel Adil Majeed. However, when Maulana Sufi was rearrested in 2009, the provincial government restored several of those cases and referred them to an anti-terrorism court (ATC), an illegal move.
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The provincial government referred 13 cases against Maulana Sufi to the ATC. Due to security reasons, the judge of the ATC concerned has been conducting trial inside the Peshawar central prison where Maulana Sufi is imprisoned.
These cases were mostly registered over two decades ago when TNSM activists occupied several government installations in Swat and other areas in 1994 and attacked different police stations. In one case, he was charged with staging a rally in Timergara (Lower Dir) and dubbing the then military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf an agent of the US in 2001. In different cases he was accused of sedition, hatching a conspiracy against the state, inciting hatred against the government, hurling threats, etc.
So far the ATC has acquitted him in 10 cases. The other three cases were referred to the regular court as it was observed that the charges against Maulana Sufi and some other accused persons did not fall under the schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997.
The court on April 18 transferred two much-publicised cases to the regular courts in Swat. In one case, he was accused of delivering a speech at Grassy Ground Mingora on April 19, 2009. In that speech, he had termed the Constitution un-Islamic and demanded enforcement of the Sharia. An FIR was registered after a delay of three months in July 2009 under different sections of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 and 11 (F) (3) of the ATA.
In the second case, he and several of his associates were accused of staging a sit-in for several days at the Rest House Ground in Timergara in October 2008, during which they delivered speeches against the government. An FIR was once again registered after a delay of many months in 2009.
An observation made by the ATC in the Grassy Ground case showed the confused policy of the state on Maulana Sufi. The judge observed it had been established that the maulana was given a free hand by the then government for holding the public meeting and that prior to it, a peace agreement was signed between the parties.
“Initially, Maulana Sufi was arrested in Kurram Agency in December 2001 on his return to Pakistan from Afghanistan where he had gone heading around 10,000 poorly armed persons to fight the American forces. He was tried along with some 30 of his supporters by the political agent concerned and was sentenced under several sections of the PPC and the Frontier Crimes Regulation,” said Shahnawaz Khan, an advocate of the Supreme Court well versed in the activities of the TNSM and the cases against Maulana Sufi.
He added that while the TNSM’s chief remained in prison till April 2008 he was not tried in some dozen cases registered against him and his organisation in 1994-95. “Trying an accused person after a delay of many years always goes in favour of the defence as sometimes the prosecution witnesses cannot be traced and even the complainant may not turn up.”
In some cases, witnesses against Maulana Sufi had either died or could not be traced. Looking at the manner in which the government has been dealing with the remaining three cases, it would not be a surprise if he is acquitted in them.
Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2015