KARACHI: Almost two years after his arrest in seven cases pertaining to the May 12 mayhem, an antiterrorism court on Tuesday formally indicted Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar and others in one case of rioting and arson.

The Karachi mayor, Umair Siddiqui, Muhammad Nasir and Nasir Zia were among 20 accused who have been charged with rioting, attempted murder and terrorism in four cases lodged at the airport police station during the May 12, 2007 chaos.

Around 50 people were killed and over 100 wounded in attacks on rallies organised by members of political parties and legal fraternity who had attempted to receive the then deposed chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chau­dhry, at the Karachi airport ahead of a lawyers’ gathering.

Justice Chaudhry was forced to fly back to Islamabad after having been restricted to the airport for nine hours. Waseem Akhtar was home adviser to the Sindh chief minister at the time.

The antiterrorism court-II judge read out the charges against the accused who were all present in the court.

The charge was framed in one of the four cases — FIR 74/2007 — which was pending trial along with three others before the ATC-II as the prosecution failed to make any breakthrough in the investigation.

The case was registered under Sections 146 (rioting), 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 109 (punishment for abatement if the act abetted is committed in consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code, read with Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, at the airport police station.

Police had arrested Waseem Akhtar and others in seven cases pertaining to May 12 mayhem in July 2016 after an antiterrorism court had dismissed his pre-arrest bail application along with Dr Asim Hussain and others in a case relating to treatment of terrorists and gangsters allegedly at the private hospitals’ chain of the former federal minister. Later, the ATC-II court had granted him bail in four cases in October 2016 and also exempted him from personal appearance.

The court had deferred indictment of Mr Akhtar and others in all the four cases pending before it at least four times as they failed to turn up together. Irked by the absence of the mayor, the court had at the last hearing withdrawn the exemption granted to him earlier from personal appearance.

All the accused, including Mr Akhtar, pleaded not guilty and opted to contest the case. Therefore, the court directed the prosecution to produce its witnesses at the next hearing on May 23 to record their testimonies.

The Karachi mayor and at least 18 others are out on bail, while 16 are absconding. Only Umair Siddiqui is currently in jail.

According to the charge sheet, Mr Akhtar had allegedly admitted his involvement before interrogators, and on his information one of the key suspects, Aslam alias Kala, was arrested.

The investigating officers contended in investigation reports that the police had recovered from Aslam a weapon allegedly used in the killings during the riots.

Four cases relating to the May 12 mayhem were pending trial before the ATC-II and three before the ATC-III as police investigators had not been able to make any major breakthrough in investigation. However, the cases took a dramatic turn after nine years when Rangers had on Dec 16, 2016 arrested Kamran Farooq, a member of the Sindh Assembly belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, who was absconding in several cases pertaining to the May 12 carnage.

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, 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, 2016, the then MQM MPA had not only confessed to his involvement in the May 12 mayhem but also implicated party leader Dr Farooq Sattar.

According to his statement, a copy of which is available with Dawn, Farooq said he had 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. According to him, the “party leadership” had asked him and other “sector in-charges” to ensure that lawyers could not reach the Karachi airport to welcome Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

He testified that he, along with his armed accomplices, had blocked many thoroughfares on May 12 and resorted to firing, leaving many wounded.

A spokesperson for the MQM had rejected Farooq’s confessional statement.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2018