The Lahore High Court’s (LHC) Rawalpindi bench on Thursday ordered that the record in the Benazir Bhutto murder case be provided to the court by the end of November, after it approved PPP-Parliamentarian's President Asif Ali Zardari's three appeals against the verdict given by the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in August.
An LHC bench — comprising Justice Mohammad Tariq Abbasi and Justice Habib Amirullah — will then start the proceedings regarding the appeals from November 27.
On September 18, the former president challenged the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) verdict of Aug 31, while seeking the death penalty for retired Gen Pervez Musharraf and two senior police officers, who were sentenced to 17 years in prison in connection with Bhutto’s murder.
Last month, ATC Judge Asghar Ali Khan had acquitted five alleged suspects affiliated with the banned the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but convicted police officers Saud Aziz and Khurram Shehzad for criminal negligence.
Former president Musharraf was also declared a proclaimed offender and his movable and immovable properties were ordered to be confiscated.
In three appeals, filed through his counsel Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari and Sardar Latif Khosa, Zardari has challenged the acquittal of the five TTP suspects — Rafaqat Hussain, Husnain Gul, Sher Zaman, Rashid Ahmed and Aitzaz Shah.
A second appeal objects to the 17-year prison term awarded to Saud Aziz and Khurram Shehzad, while the third asks why the ATC judge separated the case of Gen Musharraf, when 68 witnesses — including US lobbyist Mark Siegel — had testified in the matter a couple of years ago.
According to the appeal, “retired General Pervez Musharraf, Saud Aziz and Khurram Shehzad cannot escape the gallows”.
It cites the testimony of Siegel who said that Gen Musharraf did not want Benazir to return to the country before the 2008 general elections and had threatened her with dire consequences.
“Even Saud Aziz and Khurram Shehzad were privy to the conspiracy to eliminate Benazir Bhutto,” the appeal alleged.
The ATC judge, the appeal maintained, ignored strong evidence against the accused and wrongly gave them the benefit of doubt.
Former DIG Aziz is facing charges of removing an officer deployed for the ‘box security’ of the slain leader and ordering him to reach Sadiqabad after a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz rally came under attack near Islamabad Expressway on Dec 27, 2007.
He is also accused of not conducting a post-mortem on Bhutto’s body.
Former SSP Shehzad was convicted of washing the crime scene within hours of the suicide attack, which destroyed key evidence that might have led to the arrest of actual culprits.
The convicted officers, currently detained in Adiala jail, have challenged the sentence on three grounds.
Their appeal claimed that there was no evidence that they had actively participated in the terrorist attack.
The prosecution could not prove “the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime, as opposed to the action or conduct of the accused” against the officers.
The appellants also maintained that Section 119 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with “public servant[s] concealing design to commit an offence which it is his duty to prevent”, could not be invoked against them on the basis of evidence brought before the court.