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KARACHI: Two activists belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-London were on Friday handed down death sentence by an antiterrorism court in a case pertaining to the murder of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Zahra Shahid in 2013.

Four detained accused — Mohammad Rashid alias Master, Zahid Abbas alias Zaidi, Irfan alias Lamba and Kaleem — along with their absconding accomplices were charged with killing the PTI leader on the eve of re-polling on Karachi’s National Assembly constituency NA-250.

Hours after the veteran party leader was shot dead outside her house in the Defence Housing Authority on May 18, 2013, PTI chairman Imran Khan had blamed the then unified Muttahida Qaumi Movement for her murder.

The ATC-XVII judge, who conducted the trial in the judicial complex inside the central prison, pronounced the verdict reserved on Monday after recording evidence and arguments from both sides.

ATC orders to release two co-accused

In the 43-page judgement delivered five years after the murder, the judge observed that the prosecution had successfully proved its case against two detained accused and convicted them on three counts — murder, terrorism and common intention.

“I could not find any mitigating circumstances to deviate from awarding capital punishment to accused Mohammad Rashid alias Master and Zahid Abbas alias Zaidi, while committing the murder of deceased Zahra Shahid in presence of eyewitness Ghulam Rasool.”

The court ordered both accused to be hanged till death with direction to also pay Rs200,000 each as compensation to the legal heirs of the deceased, on the counts of murder and common intention, or undergo six months simple imprisonment on default.

On the count of terrorism, it further sentenced them to death and also imposed a fine of Rs200,000 each and directed to serve six months simple imprisonment on default.

Furthermore, convict Zahid Abbas was sentenced to serve seven years rigorous imprisonment and also pay Rs50,000, as he was found guilty of possessing illicit weapon used in the crime.

On default, he will have to serve additional six months simple imprisonment. The court also ordered to forfeit movable and immovable properties of both the accused to the extent of Rs500,000 each.

However, the court ruled that all the sentences will run concurrently and remanded both convicts to prison to serve out their sentences. The judge sent a reference to the Sindh High Court for confirmation of the death sentence.

Rangers prosecutor Mushtaq Jahangiri said both the convicts were associated with the MQM-London faction.

During the trial, the investigating officer Inspector Sohail Ahmed Khan, the then Gizri police station SHO testified that the first information report (FIR) of the incident was registered by him on behalf of the state against two unknown culprits on May 22, 2013, as nobody had come forward from the family of the deceased for registering the case.

In the FIR, he mentioned that he came to know from the spot inquiry and interrogation that on the day of incident two youngsters, aged about 20-22 years, wearing black kameez came on motorcycle at the bungalow of Ms Shahid.

One of them, who was the pillion rider and sported small beard, entered the car porch of the house with a pistol in his hand. His accomplice remained seated on the motorbike, he added.

The witness further deposed that the person who entered the car porch fired upon Ms Shahid, who fell and died while both the culprits fled on the motorcycle.

The judge noted that the only eyewitness of the incident, driver Ghulam Rasool, had rightly identified the two accused persons Rashid alias Master and Zahid Abbas alias Zaidi during an identification parade before the magistrate.

Assigning roles of both accused, the eyewitness testified that on the day of incident accused Rashid and Zahid came to the bungalow of the deceased; Rashid was sitting on the motorcycle while Zahid entered the car porch and targeted Zahra Shahid and fired upon her with pistol. She received injuries and died, he added.

The judicial magistrate, who recorded the sole eyewitness’s statement, also testified before the court that the accused were brought before him on Oct 13, 2014 and during identification parade Ghulam Rasool had rightly picked out both accused and also described their roles.

The magistrate also deposed that both the accused present in court were the same who were brought before him.

“The eyewitness Ghulam Rasool has rightly identified both the detained accused during an identification parade. The medical evidence is also supporting the ocular account that deceased Zahra Shahid died due to fire shot injuries,” the judge noted.

The court noted that the prosecution witness Inspector Ali Ahmed on May 18, 2013 recovered one empty bullet along with lead and sent the same to the forensic science laboratory (FSL) for examination.

The chemical examination report stated that the empty bullet had matched the unlicensed 30-bore pistol recovered from Zahid Abbas on Oct 2, 2014 when he was arrested by policemen then posted at the Boat Basin police station, who also deposed as prosecution witnesses and had lodged a case under Section 23-1(A) of the Sindh Arms Act, 2013.

“This important piece of evidence supports ocular account of eyewitness of the incident that on the day of incident firing was conducted by accused Zahid Abbas alias Zaidi upon Ms Shahid and killed her,” noted the judge.

The judge further observed that from the above discussion, “it is clear that both the accused persons have shared the common intention and with pre-planning reached the bungalow of the deceased and killed her and caused sense of fear, harassment and insecurity not only in the minds of the family members of deceased but also in general public”.

He added that no material contradiction had been brought out in the evidence though the witnesses were put to lengthy cross-examination.

Defence’s version

Defence counsel Qamar Iqbal for Zahid Abbas and Kaleem; Latifuddin Pasha for Rashid alias Master; and Javed Chatari for Irfan alias Lamba argued that the four detained men belonged to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, thus they were framed in the case on the basis of political rivalry and pleaded to acquit them of alleged false charges.

In his statement, accused Rashid stated that he was arrested in Sept 2014 but did not mention any date while the defence witness Mohammad Shariq deposed that on Sept 16, 2014 Rashid Master was arrested from his tailoring shop situated at Badar Commercial, DHA by the law enforcing agency’s personnel and a petition was also filed against his alleged detention in the Sindh High Court.

But, he failed to produce any eyewitness in whose presence he was detained.

Similarly, Zahid Abbas stated that the law enforcement agency arrested him from his house on the night of Sept 28, 2014 and his wife also deposed that she had petitioned the SHC over his arrest, but failed to produce either the watchman or any neighbour in this regard.

The judge found the defence plea of both accused persons not inspiring confidence and ruled it could not be relied upon while the prosecution had succeeded to prove its case against both the detained accused without any shadow of doubt, as the prosecution witnesses had fully proved the case, no contradiction was sought, medical evidence was also supporting the ocular account and also the FSL report made it clear that firing was made from the pistol recovered from Abbas.

Two co-accused acquitted

The judge noted that the names of the absconding accused — Kaleem and Irfan alias Lamba and others — were inserted in the charge sheet as disclosed by the detained Rashid.

Later, Kaleem was arrested on March 18, 2015 and during interrogation confessed before the IO that Irfan alias Lamba was arrested on April 7, 2015.

The court noted that under the memo from the Mehmoodabad police station prosecution witness ASI Nadeem Ahmed stated that during interrogation Lamba had confessed to his role in the case before the IO.

However, the judge observed that it is a well-settled law that confession of any accused before the police was inadmissible under the law and could not be used against him, as prescribed in the Articles 38 and 39 of the Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order 1984.

“It is admitted position that both persons were not brought before any magistrate to record their confessional statements under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, therefore, the allegations were not proved.”

The court acquitted them of the charges and ordered them to be released forthwith, if their custody was not required in any other case.

Absconders

The court ruled that the matter against five absconding accused, including Junaid Bukhari alias Phora, Faisal Bukhari, Tariq Nawab, Asif alias Ganja and Faheem Delhi Colony Wala, shall be kept dormant until their arrest, as no charge was framed against them in absentia under Section 21-L of the ATA.

A case was registered under Sections 302 (premeditated murder) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code read with Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 at the Gizri police station. Separately, a case regarding possession of illicit weapon was registered against Zahid Abbas at the Boat Basin police station.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2018