An antiterrorism court on Wednesday cited "lack of evidence" to acquit Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) leader Amir Khan and two others in a case pertaining to harbouring of suspected militants at the party's now sealed Nine Zero headquarters in Karachi.

Amir, former security in-charge Minhaj Qazi and Raees alias Mama were charged with sheltering wanted criminals at the party`s Azizabad headquarters in a case that lasted seven years.

On Wednesday, the matter came up before the ATC-VII judge, who conducted the trial at the judicial complex inside the Karachi central prison for the pronouncement of a reserved verdict.

Khan appeared on bail while Raees and Qazi were produced from prison.

The judge observed that the prosecution had "failed miserably" to prove the charge against the trio and, therefore, they stood acquitted.

The judge cancelled Khan's bail and directed the prison authorities to release the other two immediately if their custody was not required.

However, the pair cannot be set free since they face several other criminal cases.

During the trial, the prosecution examined six witnesses, including investigating officers Inspector Mohsin Zaidi and Inspector Rashid Hussain as well as complainant Deputy Superintendent Rangers Riaz and three policemen.

Rangers had detained the accused along with several others during a predawn raid at and around the party headquarters on March 11, 2015.

During prior hearings, Rangers’ special public prosecutor Rana Khalid had argued that the paramilitary force had arrested Khan and 26 others, including Faisal Mehmood alias Mota, who was sentenced to death in absentia in the Wali Babar murder case.

He had said that the MQM leader, along with five others, had allegedly provided shelter to criminals whom they had been using for terrorist activities in the city. A joint investigation team recommended the registration of a case against Khan, he had added.

The prosecutor had further argued that there was "sufficient evidence" to establish that Khan used to give directives to Raees, Qazi and three absconding suspects — Shahzad Mullah, Imran Ijaz Niazi and Naeem alias Mullah — to commit crimes, including acts of terrorism.

He had pleaded with the judge to punish them strictly in accordance with the law.

On the other hand, defence counsel Shaukat Hayat had contended that Khan was a member of the MQM’s Rabita Committee at the time of his arrest, which was a registered political party in the country. He had further argued that the party’s Nine Zero headquarters was meant for political activities, where no criminal was sheltered. Secondly, he had said, the prosecution had failed to produce evidence, including first information reports, in which his client was shown to have issued directives for committing criminal acts.

Defence counsel Mushtaq Ahmed had contended that Raees was taken into custody on March 26, 2018, from Jinnah International Airport upon his deportation from Malaysia, purportedly with the help of Interpol, and later he was detained in Central Jail Karachi, from where the investigating officer had arrested him in the case.

He had further argued that Qazi was shown as arrested in the present case in 2016 at Mehmoodabad police station where he was being grilled in connection with the 1997 Shahid Hamid murder case.

The court was requested to acquit them of the "false and fabricated" charges levelled against the accused by the prosecution.

The three absconding suspects had already been declared proclaimed offenders in the case by the court.

The case was registered under Section 11-V (directing terrorist activities), 21-J (harbouring any person who committed an offence under this act) and 7 (punishment for act of terrorism) of the AntiTerrorism Act, 1997 on a complaint of a Rangers` official at the Azizabad police station.

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