KARACHI: An antiterrorism court (ATC) on Tuesday sought a copy of the order purportedly passed by the Supreme Court (SC) for disposal of the case pertaining to murder of renowned rights activist Perween Rahman within one month time.
Five accused — Abdul Raheem Swati, his son Mohammad Imran Swati and three co-accused: Ayaz Shamzai aka Swati, Amjad Hussain Khan and Ahmed Khan aka Ahmed Ali aka Pappu Kashmiri — have been charged with her murder.
Ms Rahman, head of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), who devoted her life to the development of the impoverished neighbourhoods across the country, was gunned down near her office in Orangi Town on March 13, 2013.
On Tuesday, the matter came up before the ATC-XIII judge, who is conducting trial in the judicial complex inside the central prison.
The judge was informed that while hearing an application of complainant Aquila Ismail seeking re-investigation of the case by the Federal Investigation Agency instead of the Sindh police, the SC on Sept 25 directed the trial court to conclude the trial within a month.
The judge asked the complainant’s counsel to submit a copy of the apex court’s order on the next date of hearing and fixed the matter for Oct 16.
The trial in the high-profile case remained stalled for around one-and-half-year following a restraining order passed by the Sindh High Court against passing of the judgement without recording evidence of the heads of three joint investigation teams (JITs) constituted to investigate the killing of Ms Rahman.
Complainant Aquila, who is the sister of the slain activist, had approached the higher court to seek recording of evidence of the heads of the three JITs and also moved a separate application before the apex court to seek fresh investigation into the murder by the FIA.
According to the prosecution, some of the detained accused during interrogation had confessed to their involvement in the crime and disclosed that local leaders of the Awami National Party (ANP) had allegedly hired Taliban militants to kill the activist.
The judge of the ATC-XIII has already recorded statements of the accused persons under the Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
On Dec 22, 2018, the trial court dismissed Ms Ismail’s application filed under the Section 540 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) for summoning the investigators (of JITs) and had fixed the matter for recording final arguments from the state prosecutor, the defence counsel for the accused persons and counsel for the complainant.
But the complainant filed a revised application against the trial court’s order in the Sindh High Court (SHC), pleading to direct the trial court to summon the heads of the JITs for recording their statements, arguing that the testimonies of the investigators, who had interrogated the accused persons, were an importance piece of evidence to build up the trial.
According to complainant’s counsel Salahuddin Panhwar, the SHC had issued an interim stay order, restraining the trial court from passing its judgement in the murder case without recording evidence of the heads of the JITs.
Since then the trial has been stalled at the crucial stage of recording final arguments from the parties.
Evidence recorded so far
“The prosecution had listed around 35 witnesses in the case. Of them, the trial court has recorded the statements of some 20 to 21 witnesses of the prosecution.” the counsel for the parties had recently told Dawn.
Among the witnesses were police officials, including the then SSP (Investigation) Akhtar Farooq who had recorded the confessional statement of accused Raheem aka Swati.
Under the Section 21 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, a confessional statement of an accused recorded before a police officer of the rank of senior superintendent would be entertained as confessional statement recorded under the Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) before a judicial magistrate, advocate Panhwar claimed.
In his alleged statement before Akhtar Farooq, accused Raheem had confessed that he had planned and executed the murder of Perween Rahman due to ‘the dispute over plots’, the counsel claimed.
On the other hand, defence counsel Shah Imroze Khan for three accused persons complained that the complainant’s side was employing different tactics to unnecessarily delay the trial proceedings, which amounted to violating the rights of the accused persons who had been incarcerated in the jail for a long time.
He also said that the new JIT had purportedly submitted its final report to the SC. Comprising over around 600 pages, the report contained interrogation from real estate tycoon Malik Riaz and some politicians, he added.
The defence counsel contended that while recording the alleged confessional statement of Raheem, the then SSP had committed glaring mistakes, thus it was not an admissible piece of evidence.
In October 2019, the federal government had constituted a fourth joint investigation on the directives of the apex court to re-investigate the matter afresh.
According to the prosecution, some of the detained accused during interrogation had confessed to their involvement in the crime and disclosed that local leaders of the Awami National Party (ANP) had allegedly hired Taliban militants to kill miss Rahman.
It added that Ayaz and Raheem, who were said to be local leaders of the ANP, were living near the OPP office and allegedly tried to obtain a designated area to build a karate centre, but Rahman refused to allow it.
The prosecution also said that all the accused persons were present in a meeting held in January 2013 at Raheem’s residence in which they planned Rahman’s assassination, adding that they hired a local commander of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Moosa, and Mehfoozullah aka Bhaloo for the murder.
Initially, a case was registered under sections 302 (premeditated murder) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code at the Pirabad police station.
Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 was subsequently incorporated in the case on the basis of a judicial inquiry conducted by then district and sessions judge (west) Ghulam Mustafa Memon on the orders of the SC.
Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2020