LAHORE: An anti-terrorism court on Thursday acquitted all six personnel of the police’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of the charge of killing four persons, including a woman and her daughter, in an alleged encounter earlier this year.

Muhammad Khalil, his wife Nabeela and their four children were travelling in a car, with their neighbour Zeeshan behind the wheel, when the CTD personnel intercepted the vehicle and opened fire on them. Later, the CTD officials claimed they had intelligence-based information that Zeeshan had links with a terrorist outfit.

Three minor children of Khalil — Muhammad Umair, Jazba and Muneeba — survived the attack with minor injuries.

On Jan 19, Yousafwala police registered an FIR on the complaint of Muhammad Jalil, brother of deceased Khalil, under sections 302, 324, 337 (F1, F-A1 & F3), 201 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.

Initially the trial was conducted in Sahiwal. However, the Lahore High Court (LHC) on June 17 shifted the proceedings to Lahore, allowing an application filed by the complainant.

The suspects — namely, Safdar Hussain, Ahsan Khan, Muhammad Ramzan, Saifullah, Hasnain Akbar and Nasir Nawaz — were indicted by the trial court.

“The prosecution has failed to prove the case against the accused... while dispensing justice the court has to see the evidence available on record...,” trial judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta ruled in the verdict.

The prosecution presented around 27 private witnesses. However, all of them exonerated the suspects from the charge and a majority of them maintained they knew nothing about the occurrence; some of them said they reached the crime scene after the incident.

The judge noted that all the witnesses were declared hostile and they were subjected to lengthy cross-examination by the prosecution, but in vain.

“All the private witnesses in response to cross-examination conducted by the learned defence counsel maintained that they had no objection if the accused persons were acquitted,” the judge wrote in the verdict.

He said the complainant admitted that the FIR was not chalked out on his instruction or on his application; rather a fictitious application was attributed to him.

“Umair, the injured witness, was also examined after conducting an inquiry of his competency to depose in the case and he also did not involve any of the suspects (and) in his cross-examination maintained he has no objection if the suspects are acquitted. Two minor witnesses, namely Hadia and Muneeba, were also presented by the prosecution but the trial court reached the conclusion that they were not competent to depose due to their tender ages.”

Therefore, the judge ruled that no ocular account was available to connect the suspects to the commission of the offence.

About the medical evidence, the judge observed there was no cavil to the preposition that post-mortem reports and the medico-legal reports only established that the deceased and injured persons received injuries, the kind of weapons used, seat of injuries, probable time between injuries and medical examination.

However, he noted that the medical account did not furnish the details of the assailants.

Referring to a high court judgement, the trial judge observed that medical evidence was a supportive piece of evidence and it was relevant only if primary evidence inspired confidence.

“And in this case this court has already reached the conclusion that prosecution has failed to bring on record ocular account against the accused persons, so medical account is of no help to the prosecution,” added the judge.

He also dismissed the digital evidence provided by the prosecution for being collected from unreliable sources and due to unavailability of original sources.

He further ruled that none of the witnesses attended the identification parade, so an adverse inference could be drawn from the conduct of the witnesses that either they intentionally avoided to participate in it or did not want to identify the suspects.

“So the identification parade is also not helpful to the case of the prosecution,” said the ruling.

Deputy Prosecutor General Abdul Rauf Wattoo argued during the trial that empties procured from the crime scene matched with the weapons issued to two of the suspects.

However, the judge observed that the court had already disbelieved the ocular account and reached the conclusion that recoveries of weapons in this case were not worthy of credence on account of non-recovery of the same from immediate possession of the suspects.

With regard to a positive report by the Punjab Forensic Science Agency, the judge further ruled: “Any of the private witnesses has not implicated the accused in this case, rather injured witness failed to identify the accused, so positive report of the ballistic expert is of no use to the prosecution.”

“The accused persons are hereby acquitted of the charges by extending them the benefit of doubt,” the judge concluded.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2019