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ISLAMABAD: As the Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the bail earlier granted to three accused in the Dec 2012 tragic murder of 20-year-old Shahzeb Khan in Karachi, they were immediately arrested in the Courtroom No. 1.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar ordered policemen present inside the courtroom to take into custody the accused — Shahrukh Jatoi, Siraj Talpur and Sajjad Talpur — with an observation that the bail granted to them earlier by the concerned courts would be considered nullity in the eyes of the law.

The moment the Supreme Court bench rose after handing down the order, a contingent of Islamabad police arrested the accused and took them out of the court premises through the gates reserved only for judges. The fourth accused, Ghulam Murtaza Lashari, a servant of the Talpurs, is in jail.

Apex court overturns SHC order for retrial

On Jan 10, 2013, Sikander Jatoi, the father of the main suspect Shahrukh Jatoi, was also arrested outside the Supreme Court after the court distanced itself from his request to come to his relief.

The apex court was seized with a joint appeal moved by 10 civil society activists — including Jibran Nasir, Jamshed Raza Mahmood and Afiya Shehrbano Zia — challenging the Nov 28, 2017 Sindh High Court (SHC) order to set aside antiterrorism charges by holding that the murder case did not fall in the jurisdiction of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.

However, the Supreme Court converted the appeals into a suo motu case under Article 184(3) of the Constitution with a directive to the court office to assign a proper case number to the petitions.

“We are happy that justice has been served,” commented Mr Nasir after the decision saying it did not matter whether their petitions were accepted or the court had taken suo motu notice. “Our purpose was only to bring the issue in the notice of the Supreme Court in which we have succeeded,” he said.

Shahzeb Khan, the son of Aurangzeb Khan, a deputy superintendent police, was shot dead in Karachi on the night between Dec 24 and 25, 2012 when he was returning home after attending a wedding ceremony with his sister in the Country Club Apartments Karachi.

The murder of the youngster mobilised hundreds of people who gathered outside the Karachi Press Club to protest against the incident requesting the then chief justice to take suo motu action to ensure arrest of the accused.

During the proceedings on Thurs­day, the chief justice asked Shahrukh Jatoi to stand up saying he wanted to see the young handsome man who was flashing victory signs (at the time when he was released on bail).

The SC order, the reasons of which will be recorded later, set aside the SHC judgement in which the Shahzeb murder case was remanded back to the criminal court for a de novo trial. Thus the appeals moved before the SHC against the decision of the antiterrorism court will be deemed to be still pending before the high court and the same will be decided by a different bench of the SHC within two months.

Meanwhile the earlier directives of the court to place the names of the accused on the Exit Control List will continue to hold the field until the high court decides their appeals.

In Dec 2012, Shahrukh Jatoi had fled the country but had to be brought back on the orders of the Supreme Court. Shahrukh Jatoi and co-accused Siraj Talpur were sentenced to death by the antiterrorism court. Sajjad Talpur and Ghulam Murtaza were handed life imprisonment for their involvement in the murder.

Subsequently the convicts filed an appeal in the SHC which annulled antiterrorism clauses in the case and referred it back to the district and sessions court of Karachi’s South district.

The district and sessions court on Dec 23, 2017 ordered the release of Shahrukh Jatoi and the other accused after Shahzeb Khan’s father submitted an affidavit requesting the approval of Shahrukh's bail and dropping of the case as he had pardoned his son’s killer in the name of Allah.

The judge, Imdad Hussain Khoso, ordered the release of the convicts against a surety of Rs500,000 each when he was told that both sides had reconciled and the testimony had been submitted to the court with mutual consent.

On Thursday Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf conceded before the Supreme Court that the high court had wrongly exercised its jurisdiction ignoring earlier directive of the apex court to try the accused under the antiterrorism charges.

However Sardar Latif Khan Khosa, representing Shahrukh Jatoi, argued that it was not the fault of the accused if the high court had given a wrong order adding that the 2013 order of the apex court on suo motu was not a determination.

“This is a case of acquittal in which the state should facilitate instead of creating impediments in the compromise reached between the accused and the victim family,” he argued.

The counsel said that his client had spent five years in the death cell and even was not allowed to take his examinations on the grounds that he was a notorious inmate. “Is this going to be the fate of my client?” Mr Khosa asked.

Earlier senior counsel Farooq Naek, representing the two Talpurs, questioned whether the hype created by the media could be termed terrorism and what was before the Supreme Court when it took suo motu notice in Jan 2013 was media reports instead of the case record.

At this Justice Asif Saeed Khosa took exception and observed that though the court took notice on media reports, they decided cases on merit.

The chief justice wondered in what frame of mind was the high court when it issued the Nov 28, 2017 order.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2018