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KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Tuesday set aside conviction in the Shahzeb Khan murder case after ruling that the offence was not an act of terrorism and sent the case to a sessions court for a retrial.

An antiterrorism court had sentenced Shahrukh Jatoi and his friend Nawab Siraj Ali Talpur to death in June 2013 and two other co-accused got life imprisonment for killing 20-year-old Shahzeb Khan, son of DSP Aurangzeb Khan, on Dec 25, 2012 near his home in Karachi’s Defence area.

The then chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had taken suo motu notice of the incident that had sparked widespread outrage across the country through newspapers, TV channels and social media.

The incident also triggered a widespread debate over whether the country’s elite could be held accountable for crimes they committed as the prime accused belonged to powerful feudal families of Sindh.

The convicts filed appeals in the SHC against conviction while Shahrukh had also filed a criminal review application contending that he was a juvenile person at the time of the offence.

On Tuesday, a two-judge SHC bench headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar set aside the conviction order of the ATC.

The bench in its order observed that it was a case of personnel vendetta and the relevant section of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997 was misapplied by the police, thus, the trial was not proper.

Therefore, the bench ruled that the impugned judgement was set aside and the case was remanded back to an ordinary court (sessions court) for trial.

The SHC also said that the sessions court would be competent to deicide a compromise reached between the appellants and the victim’s families as well as other applications.

Earlier, Advocate Farooq H. Naek appeared on behalf of the convict Shahrukh and contended that his client was a juvenile at the time when the crime was committed. Therefore, he added, he could not be tried under the antiterrorism law.

The Sindh prosecutor general, Shahadat Awan, informed the bench that during the pendency of appeals the complainant party approached the SHC and pardoned the convicts, adding that on the directive of the high court the trial court had also verified the compromise and reported it back to the SHC in September 2014.

Ramsha Jahangir
Ramsha Jahangir

He also pointed out that the Supreme Court in a ruling had observed that the offences committed on the bases of personal enmity could not come within the domain of the ATA.

The lawyer for complainant, Mahmood Alam Rizvi, said that a compromise was reached between the two parties.

It may be recalled that an application had filed on behalf of the victim`s family in the SHC asking the court to allow the convicts and the legal heirs of the victim to settle the matter out of court as they had pardoned them, waiving the right to Qisas and Diyat (compensation) has been pending disposal.

The SHC had referred the same to the trial court to verify the genuineness of the “compromise” reached between the two parties within three months. Later, the trial court confirmed it.

The offence under Section 302 (premeditated murder) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) is compoundable while the offences under Section 6/7 of ATA are non-compoundable.

Since the SHC removed the relevant section of ATA, the accused persons are likely to be released soon since the complainant party had already pardoned them.

Shahrukh Jatoi, Siraj Talpur, his younger brother Nawab Sajjad Ali Talpur and their house servant Ghulam Murtaza Lashari had been charged with killing Shahzeb and using criminal force with intent to outraging the modesty of his sister.

According to the prosecution, the sister of Shahzeb was teased by Lashari and she telephoned her mother who asked her son to rescue his sister. But a scuffle broke out between the victim and the accused and they extended threats of dire consequences to him.

However, the victim’s father tried to settle the dispute and on Siraj’s demand he even directed his son to apologise to the accused, it added.

However, Shahrukh did not accept the apology and while disclosing his identity as a son of a rich man he declared to kill Shahzeb.

The prosecution further said that Shahrukh and Siraj opened indiscriminate fire on Shahzeb’s vehicle and the car overturned and Sajjad and Ghulam, who accompanied the shooters, came near the victim’s vehicle and asked their accomplices to shoot at him again since he was still alive. Hence, Shahrukh and Siraj opened fire again, the prosecution added.

Initially, the case (FIR 591/12) was registered under Sections 302 (premeditated murder), 109 (abetment) and 34 (common intention) of the PPC on the complaint of the deceased’s father.

However, during investigation, Section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modestly) of the PPC and Section 7 of the ATA were incorporated in the FIR.

Shahrukh along with others has also been facing trial in another case for allegedly escaping to Dubai on forged documents following the murder in December 2012.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2017