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LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Thursday acquitted PML-N MNA Ch Abid Raza Kotla and three others of murder charges of six people, including two police constables.

An anti-terrorism court of Gujranwala had in 1999 awarded death penalty on six counts to Mr Kotla and others under Section 302 of Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 as well. The conviction was challenged before a division bench of the high court. However, the appeals of the convicts were not decided on merit rather disposed of in the light of compromise between the parties and the sentence under the PPC was cancelled in 2003.

The acquittal judgment was delivered by a division bench headed by then chief justice Iftikhar Hussain Chaudhry (late).

The bench in its decision had failed to examine the effect of the sentence under section 7 of ATA (non-compoundable) and the prosecution never challenged the acquittal of the convicts.

The Supreme Court had in June 2016 suspended the acquittal judgment and restored the conviction of the MNA and others under the special law (ATA). However, the apex court granted bail to them and remanded the case to the high court for fresh decision on the appeals.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice Sardar Shamim Khan held series of hearings on the appeals on a point whether an offense under Section 7 of ATA was compoundable (reconcilable) in addition to challenge against sentence under section 302 of PPC.

The bench had also appointed Advocate Usman Naseem, a criminal law expert, as amicus curiae (friend of court) to render assistance in the case. On the implication of section 7 ATA, the lawyer argued that the murdered police constables were not on official duty at the time of the incident.

He said the Supreme Court in a number of judgments had ruled that killing of a policeman other than official duty did not attract provision of anti-terrorism law in the case. Moreover, he said, there was an old enmity between the complainant and accused parties, which was an established fact.

Representing the convicts, Advocate Ahsan Bhoon and Barrister Salman Safdar mainly argued that the prosecution altogether failed to present even single evidence in support of Section 7 of ATA. They said it was a case of personal enmity and there was no element of terrorism. They said the sentence under section 302 of PPC was set aside following a compromise between the parties. Even then, they said the prosecution could not establish its case as its start witness, a cop, had refused to identify the appellants rather told the trial court that he could recognise the real culprits if interacted.

Announcing a short verdict, the division bench allowed the appeals and acquitted the MNA and others of the charges. Abid Raza Kotli was again elected to National Assembly from NA-71, Gujrat, in July 25 general election.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2018