13 years on, justice still eludes Tahir Plaza arson attack victims

Published April 10, 2021
Despite the lapse of 13 years, the case related to the killing of six people in an arson attack in Tahir Plaza is still pending trial primarily for want of witnesses, it emerged on Friday. — AFP/File
Despite the lapse of 13 years, the case related to the killing of six people in an arson attack in Tahir Plaza is still pending trial primarily for want of witnesses, it emerged on Friday. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Despite the lapse of 13 years, the case related to the killing of six people in an arson attack in Tahir Plaza is still pending trial primarily for want of witnesses, it emerged on Friday.

The legal fraternity on Friday also staged a protest to mark the 13th anniversary of the tragic incident.

Advocate Altaf Abbasi with his five clients was burnt to death at his Tahir Plaza office near the City Courts in April 2008 when the building, which mostly housed lawyers’ offices, was set ablaze following a spat between two groups of lawyers at the City Courts.

Three accused — M. Imran alias Imran Saeed, Ahmed Saeed alias Saeed Bharam and Faisal Javed — with their 12 absconding accomplices have been charged with violence, burning six people in an arson attack and terrorism on April 9, 2008.

Judicial and prosecution sources told Dawn that the trial had seen an inordinate delay of 13 years for different reasons.

“The proceedings remained stalled for a long time for want of evidence of the witnesses, who were not turning up to depose before the court against the accused persons,” said a judicial source at the Anti-Terrorism Court-VII, where the case is pending.

The matter was fixed for recording testimonies of the prosecution witnesses on Thursday, but the same could not be done because the presiding officer of the court was on leave.

Lawyers observe a strike at City Courts to mark the 13th anniversary of the deadly incident

Initially, the police had detained two suspects — Syed Nadeem Hasan Zaidi and Wamiq Atiq Siddiqui — said to be political activists, who had allegedly confessed to their involvement in the case.

However, they were released under Section 169 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Sept 2011, as the investigating officer submitted a report before an ATC recommending their release as two eyewitnesses failed to identify them during an identification parade.

Similarly, a third suspect, Abdul Qadir, who was arrested in April 2014, was also freed, as an eyewitness had also failed to identify him during an identification parade.

Case reopened after two arrests

However, the investigators claimed a breakthrough after accused Imran and Saeed were arrested in connection with other cases and during interrogation also confessed to their involvement in the Tahir Plaza arson attack.

“Earlier, the case was disposed of by the court due to non-prosecution,” Karachi Bar Association’s president Naeem Qureshi told Dawn. “It was after the arrest of the two accused that the case was reopened and the trial began,” he added.

The IO of the case, Inspector Chaudhry Mohammad Arshad, in a supplementary charge sheet, had stated that accused Imran was detained by the Garden police in a case pertaining to possession of explosives in 2016.

He disclosed before a joint investigation team (JIT) that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Altaf leader Hammad Siddiqui and activist Saeed Bharam had tasked him and 12 others to “teach a lesson” to the lawyers, who were protesting for the restoration of then deposed chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, it added.

Accused Imran had also named Rizwan alias Mota, Nawab Dhobi, Mubashir Naqvi, Ayaz alias Major, Asim alias Ganja, Abbas alias Abbasi, Saleem alias Golden, Shahzad Qadri, Wajid, Shehroz alias Bablu, Faisal alias Mama, Raju and others as co-accused.

The charge sheet further said that accused Saeed also disclosed before a JIT in the Karachi central prison that he belonged to the MQM-A and used to work and raise funds for the party. He also confessed to his involvement in the Tahir Plaza case.

The IO also mentioned in the interim charge sheet that accused Imran Saeed also allegedly confessed that he with other MQM-A workers reached Tahir Plaza at 6pm, scared the people by firing into the air and climbed up to the sixth floor, where they threw some chemical that caused a fire in the offices of advocates Altaf Jaffery, Naeem Qureshi and others that burnt the lawyer and others.

He said that both the detained accused had also recorded their confessional statements before a judicial magistrate while eyewitnesses had also identified them during an identification parade.

The judicial sources said both the detained accused had been indicted in the present case, which was now at the stage of recording evidence, but key witnesses were not coming forward to testify against them.

“Last month, the court had framed an amended charge against both accused along with third one Faisal Javed, who was produced before the court in March this year,” they added.

The judicial officials said that the prosecution had listed 49 witnesses in the case, but testimonies of most of them could not be recorded so far.

Around 10 lawyers, who are witnesses to the incident, have been allegedly deliberately avoiding appearing before the judge to record their statements in the case despite issuance of repeated notices by the IO since June 2018, they claimed.

At times the defence counsel appearing for the accused persons do not appear on a date when the witness is produced before court for recording his statement, they added.

Lawyers boycott courts

The lawyers observed a strike at the City Courts on Friday to mark the 13th anniversary of the tragic incident on a protest call given by the KBA, demanding that the government punish the perpetrators and executors of the deadly arson attack.

Mr Qureshi of the KBA said that the trial was lingering on for a long time, and currently due to the spread of the coronavirus.

The KBA president, who is also listed as a witness to the arson attacks, said he appeared before the court thrice to record his statement, but it could not be done because the accused persons were not produced before the court from prison due to fears of spread of the coronavirus.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2021

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