KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Tuesday commuted the death sentence of two political activists to life imprisonment in a case pertaining to the murder of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Zahra Shahid.
An antiterrorism court had sentenced Mohammad Rashid, alias Master, and Zahid Abbas, alias Zaidi, the workers of Muttahida Qaumi Movement, to death in August last year for killing the 70-year-old PTI leader inside her home in Defence Housing Authority on the eve of re-polling on Karachi’s National Assembly constituency NA-250 in 2013.
Both the convicts through their lawyers challenged the death penalty before the high court and after hearing arguments from both sides and examining the evidence, a two-judge bench of the SHC headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha converted the death sentence of both convicts into life term.
Two MQM activists were sentenced to death last year by an ATC for killing Zahra Shahid in 2013
The bench in its judgement observed that there was no doubt that eyewitness Ghulam Rasool, driver of the deceased, was able to correctly identify both the convicts during an identification parade before a judicial magistrate, adding that the court did not find any illegality in identification procedure and the delay in holding identification parade was also explained by the eyewitness.
“We also considered the case of defence for false implication which we do not find very convincing at all”, the judges observed in the order and said the argument of the defence that one of the accused had filed a petition about his prior abduction before the murder did not create a dent in the case of the prosecution specially as in Karachi it was not unknown for criminals to go underground and file a petition before committing crimes in order to set up false defence.
The order further said that as per eyewitness, the victim sustained two bullet injuries one in neck and other in the shoulder while the post mortem examination report said that there was one bullet wound in the neck. However, this discrepancy is not sufficient to extend the benefit of doubt to the appellants, it added.
The court ruled that the evidence of eyewitness was reliable and confidence inspiring.
The evidence of the eyewitness was also corroborated by the medical evidence and a pistol, used in crime, was also recovered from the possession of Zahid Abbas at the time of his arrest.
It stated that Zahid, being unit in-charge of MQM-Altaf for NA-250, bearing in mind the intense political rivalry over the fate of NA-250 of which the deceased was an active PTI canvasser, had the motive to kill the 70-year-old leader in order to frighten PTI voters in the constituency.
The other appellant Rashid also had the similar motive though he did not shoot gunfire which would ordinarily lead to the upholding of death penalty.
“However, we find that the murder was not carried out in a brutal manner by Zahid Abbas and that accused Mohammad Rashid did not personally murder the deceased and his hulia was less well described in the FIR. There are also some elements of the prosecution case which expose some minor doubts, but not enough to hold that the prosecution has not proved its case against both accused for the offences charged beyond a reasonable doubt”, the order said.
Referring to a recent judgement of Supreme Court, the bench said that as per apex court, where the judges entertain some doubts albeit not sufficient for acquittal, judicial caution must be exercised to award the alternative sentence of life imprisonment.
Therefore, the capital punishment awarded on two counts to both convicts was commuted to life imprisonment on two counts, the bench ruled and said both the sentences would run concurrently.
The same bench on Tuesday issued notices to the provincial police officer, Rangers and other respondents on a petition about alleged disappearance of one of the accused in the Karachi airport attack case.
A relative of Asif Zaheer contended that he was allegedly picked up from a shop on Tariq Road on Aug 15 by personnel of law enforcement agencies and since then his whereabouts were unknown.
The bench issued notices to the IG, the DG Ranges and other respondents to file comments till Sept 17.
Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2019