An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) on Tuesday indicted Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar and others in a case pertaining to the May 12, 2007 riots, 11 years after the incident.
Around 50 people were killed and over 100 wounded in attacks on rallies by different political parties and the legal fraternity who had attempted to receive the then deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry at the Karachi airport ahead of a lawyers’ gathering.
Chaudhry was forced to fly back to Islamabad after nine hours of being restricted to the airport.
Akhtar was the provincial home adviser to the chief minister at the time.
Read Dawn's editorial: May 12 tragedy
All those charged, including Akhtar, appeared before the court today and pleaded not guilty.
The court directed the prosecution to produce its witnesses in the next hearing.
The Karachi mayor and at least 18 others are out on bail, while 16 others are absconding. Only one of those charged today is in jail.
Akhtar, while speaking to reporters after the hearing, complained that 40 cases had been lodged against him after his nomination as a mayor, with as many as 20 first information reports filed against him in one day.
The hearing of the case will resume on June 23.
While various cases have been registered by lawyers and political activists at different police stations, trials for only seven cases have begun, and those too have moved at snail’s pace.
Currently, four cases have been pending trial before antiterrorism court-II, and three before the antiterrorism court-III, for a while as police investigators have not been able to make any major breakthrough in the investigation.
However, the cases took a dramatic turn after nine years when the Rangers arrested Kamran Farooq, a member of the Sindh Assembly belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, who was absconding in several cases pertaining to May 12, on Dec 16, 2016.
Farooq, who was booked in two cases for allegedly carrying grenades and unlicensed weapons, had recorded his confessional statement before a judicial magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), making startling revelations about the alleged involvement of the MQM leadership in one of the most violent episodes of the country’s history.
In his confessional statement, recorded on Dec 20, the then interned MQM MPA had not only confessed to his involvement in the May 12, 2007 mayhem but also implicated party leader Dr Farooq Sattar.
According to his statement, a copy of which is available with Dawn, suspect Farooq stated that he joined the MQM in 2000 and worked as the party’s “unit and sector in-charge”.
He added that he was given a party ticket to contest the 2013 general election on the recommendation of the then chief of the Karachi Tanzeemi Committee, Hammad Siddiqui.
About his involvement in the May 12 events, he told the magistrate that a meeting was held on May 10, 2007 at the party’s Nine Zero headquarters in the presence of Dr Farooq Sattar, Siddiqui and other leaders.
He said that the “party leadership” had asked him and other “sector in-charges” to ensure that lawyers could not reach the Karachi airport to welcome Iftikhar Chaudhry.
He testified that he, along with his armed accomplices, blocked many thoroughfares on May 12 and resorted to firing, leaving many wounded.
While the MQM spokesperson had rejected Farooq’s confessional statement, the Rangers prosecution department insisted that it was still a crucial piece of evidence.
“Two years have passed since Kamran Farooq made his confession, which is crucial evidence legally admissible in court as the same was recorded before a judicial magistrate,” Advocate Sajid Mehboob Sheikh, head of the Rangers prosecution department, told Dawn.
“However, the police high-ups have failed to use this evidence in all the cases relating to the May 12 incidents till today,” he claimed.
He cited the example of a similar confessional statement recorded by the defunct Peoples Amn Committee’s (PAC) chief Uzair Jan Baloch, who was interrogated in a criminal case, who had made startling disclosures about the involvement of high-profile political figures and police high-ups in various criminal activities.
“Uzair Baloch’s confessional statement is now being used in 62 criminal cases pending against him and others being tried in different antiterrorism courts,” argued the paramilitary force’s special prosecutor, who is defending Rangers' cases in the ATCs.
On the other hand, the judicial sources said all the cases were still pending at the pre-trial stage, as the police had yet to nominate those named by Kamran Farooq in his confessional statement.
Some believed that there was a lack of interest on the part of the provincial prosecution department.
When contacted by Dawn, former prosecutor general Shahadat Awan, who was responsible for getting the confessional statement of Kamran Farooq, seemed least bothered about the matter.
Awan put the responsibility of having used the confession in the cases on the Rangers, which was not performing role of prosecution in these cases.
The lawyers’ leaders interviewed by Dawn demanded that the law-enforcement agencies as well as the government should ensure that justice was dispensed to the families of the victims and survivors of the May 12 bloodshed and its perpetrators were punished.
Editorial: May 12 questions
The reason behind the May 12, 2007, violence was the thwarted visit of the then deposed chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry.
The MQM — then a united and much more powerful entity than it is today — practically controlled the Sindh government and wanted to prevent the judge from reaching a reception arranged in his honour by members of the bar.
This was being done in order to please the military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, the Muttahida’s political patron.
However, the MQM’s foes in Sindh — principally the PPP and the ANP — wanted to welcome the judge and had arranged rallies to receive him.
What resulted was an ugly power play.
Read more: May 12 questions