LAHORE: An anti-terrorism court on Thursday concluded jail trial of Kasur “serial killer” allegedly involved in rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab and eight other minors as lawyers and rights activists questioned fairness of the proceedings.

ATC-I Judge Sajjad Ahmad reserved the verdict after cross examination of all the prosecution witnesses completed by state counsel Muhammad Sultan who was appointed by the trial court to represent the suspect, Imran Ali.

Advocate Mehar Shakeel Multani, private counsel for the suspect, had withdrawn his power of attorney after the suspect made confession before the trial court. The lawyer claimed his conscience did not allow him to defend a killer.

Later, the court provided the suspect with state counsel to complete the trial proceedings.

The prosecution had presented at least 56 witnesses against the suspect in addition to forensic evidence, including the DNA and polygraph tests.

The trial court concluded the proceedings within four days. The Lahore High Court had given seven days for completion of the trial.

Proceedings complete in four days

The Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 also requires trial court to proceed with the trial on day-to-day basis and decide the case within seven working days.

A special prosecution team headed by Mr Abdul Rauf Wattoo prosecuted the suspect during the trial. Prosecutor General of Punjab Eihtesham Qadir Shah also monitored the trial proceedings on the instructions of the Supreme Court that had taken a suo motu notice of the Zainab case.

The ATC judge would announce the verdict on Saturday (tomorrow) at the Central Jail, Kot Lakhpat, where the trial proceedings were held on the request of the prosecution.

Showing concerns about the fairness of the trial inside jail, rights activist and senior lawyer Asad Jamal said the trial could not be held in a free and fair manner unless the suspect was given an ample opportunity to defend himself through a counsel of his choice.

He said the trial had been conducted in camera without access to independent observers, members of the bar and independent legal counsel for the suspect. He said the prosecution could not propose or nominate a lawyer to defend a suspect, as done in the case, because there had always been a clear conflict of interest. He said it was against the principles of due process of fair trial guaranteed under Article 10-A of the Constitution.

Advocate Jamal also filed an application with the jail authorities, seeking permission to meet the suspect to consult him in private to access the need for the steps to be taken, including representation to defend him to ensure a fair trial.

Talking to Dawn, the prosecutor general (PG) said all the requisites of justice and fairness had been strictly observed during the trial proceedings.

He said the private counsel for the suspect had cross- examined at least 22 prosecution witnesses before he withdrew his power of attorney.

Later, the state counsel appointed by the court completed the cross-examination of the remaining witnesses, he added.

Explaining the reasons behind conducting the trial inside jail, the PG said it was done for the suspect’s protection and that the law also permitted such precautions for such cases.

Senior lawyer Azam Nazir Tarar, having expertise in criminal law, said there had been reservations about the jail-trial and in-camera proceedings.

However, he said, shortcomings in the trial, if any, could be removed in appeal before the high court. The appeal was considered as continuation of the trial, he added.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2018

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