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KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Monday commuted the death sentence of Shahrukh Jatoi and Nawab Siraj Ali Talpur to life imprisonment in the Shahzeb murder case.

A two-judge bench comprising Justices Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Nazar Akbar after hearing at length the arguments from the counsel for the appellants — Shahrukh, Siraj, Ghulam Murtaza Lashari and Nawab Sajjad Ali Talpur — and the complainant had reserved its verdict on March 11 and announced it on Monday.

The bench relied upon different judgements of the Supreme Court, cited by the counsel for the appellants, wherein the apex court had reduced the sentences awarded to the appellants under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, including the Sarfaraz Shah murder case in which the death sentence of Rangers trooper Shahid Zafar was reduced to life imprisonment.

“The whys and wherefores lead us to a finale that since the legal heirs of deceased Shahzeb have compounded the offense of Qatl-i-amad under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code, therefore, along the lines of dictum laid down by the Supreme Court with regard to the impact and effect of compounding offences under the provisions of PPC and Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, the Special ATA Appeals to the extent of Nawab Siraj Ali Talpur and Shahrukh Jatoi are partly allowed,” read the 62-page verdict.

The SHC reduces the capital punishment of Jatoi and Siraj Talpur under a non-compoundable clause of the anti-terror law

The bench ruled that “as a result thereof, the death sentence awarded to Shahrukh Jatoi and Nawab Siraj Ali Talpur is reduced from death penalty to life imprisonment under Section 7(a) of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, which is not compoundable”.

The trial court’s reference seeking confirmation of the sentences awarded to Jatoi and Siraj was answered in the negative.

The bench also ruled that though the sentence of life imprisonment handed down to two other accused, Ghulam Murtaza Lashari and Nawab Sajjad Ali Talpur, were compounded under Section 302 of the PPC, they were also convicted for life imprisonment under Section 7(a) of the ATA, 1997, which was maintained, and disposed of their appeals.

The court said that the sentences of Shahrukh and Lashari would run concurrently and the trial court had extended the benefit of Section 382-B of the Criminal Procedure Code to them and Sajjad Talpur and the same was also extended to Siraj Talpur.

However, it ruled that the condition of fine shall remain intact.

The appellants were represented by Advocates Mahmood Akhtar Qureshi, Haq Nawaz Talpur, Sardar Latif Khan Khosa, Farooq H. Naek, Syeda Gul Naz and others.

An antiterrorism court had sentenced Shahrukh Jatoi and his friend Siraj Talpur to death in June 2013, while two other co-accused Lashari and Sajjad Talpur were given life imprisonment for killing 20-year-old student Shahzeb Khan on Dec 25, 2012 near his house in the Defence Housing Authority.

The killing of young Shahzeb had sparked widespread protests by civil society and the then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had also taken suo motu notice of failure of the police to arrest the killers, including Jatoi who had escaped to Dubai.

Two eyewitnesses had deposed before the trial court that Lashari, an employee of the Talpurs, had teased a sister of the victim and after having arguments with him the accused chased and shot him dead.

While the appeals of the four convicts were still pending in the SHC, the victim’s legal heirs filed their affidavits through Advocate Mehmood Alam Rizvi in 2013, stating that they had pardoned the appellants outside the court without any pressure, coercion and interest, but in the name of Allah. They also waived the right of Qisas or Diyat and endorsed that they had no objection if the convicts were acquitted by the court.

In Nov 2017, a two-judge SHC bench, headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar, had set aside their conviction and sent the case to a sessions court for a fresh trial and to decide a compromise agreement reached between the convicts and the heirs of the deceased as well as other applications with an observation that the offence did not come within the parameters of the ATA.

Later, the sessions court had released Shahrukh and others on bail.

However, around 10 civil society activists had challenged the SHC’s order before the Supreme Court, which set aside the SHC judgement in February 2018 and remanded the case back to the SHC with the direction that the appeals be decided by a different bench of the SHC within two months. Jatoi and others were arrested and sent to jail again.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2019