The Sindh government decided on Thursday to detain five men acquitted in the murder case of renowned rights activist Perween Rahman — who was shot dead in the metropolis in 2013— under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance (MPO).

Earlier this year, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Karachi had sentenced four of the accused, namely Abdul Raheem Swati, Ahmed Khan, Amjad Hussain Khan, and Ayaz Swati, to life imprisonment.

However, on November 21, the Sindh High Court (SHC) had ordered the release of all the accused citing a lack of evidence.

Rahman’s family had termed the acquittal a “grave injustice” and decided to challenge it in the Supreme Court.

In an order issued today, the Sindh Home Department said that a letter had been submitted to the government by the inspector general of police on Nov 25.

The letter stated that five persons who were acquitted were “hardened criminals” who posed an “imminent threat” to the family of the deceased especially her sister who works as the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) chairperson, and the entire staff of the project.

The provincial police chief in his letter further said there was an “intelligence report” that the life of Rahman's family numbers especially her sister were in “danger.”

According to the order’s contents, the acquitted persons may “disturb peace and tranquility apart from creating serious law and order problems and such an act on their behalf will be highly prejudicial to the public safety and maintenance of public order.”

Therefore, it went on, IG Ghulam Nabi Memon had recommended the provincial government to detain the five acquitted persons under MPO for three months at least.

“The Government of Sindh on the basis of request and considering the merits of the case is satisfied that there are serious apprehensions of public safety,” reads the Home Department’s order.

"In the interest of public safety and that the presence of above-accused persons, at any public place is likely to pose a grave threat to the public safety and cause a breach of peace and tranquility.”

Subsequently, the order said, the Sindh government had “sufficient reason” to believe that the said accused is to be arrested and detained for a period of 90 days from the date of arrest.

“Their custody shall be placed under the Senior Superintendent of Central Prison, Karachi,” it added.

Two officials familiar with the development told Dawn.com on the condition of anonymity that all five accused persons had been released from prison after their acquittal and had not been re-arrested or detained yet.

Rahman’s sister welcomed the government’s decision.

“We are relieved. Having them freely moving near the office was very stressful and scary,” Aquila Ismail said.

She added that “the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) gives us and our majority staff that lives in Orangi a breathing space to appeal against the verdict”.

The murder

Rahman, who was heading the OPP and had devoted her life to the development of impoverished neighbourhoods, was gunned down near her office in Orangi Town on March 13, 2013.

Initially, a case for her murder was registered under Sections 302 (premeditated murder) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code at the Pirabad police station.

Later, Section 7 (punishment for acts of terrorism) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, was added to the first information report on the basis of a judicial inquiry conducted by then-district and sessions judge (west) Ghulam Mustafa Memon on the orders of the Supreme Court.

In March 2021, the ATC was told that Rahman had identified and named “land grabbers and extortionists” for trying to illegally occupy the land of the OPP’s office in an interview recorded around 15 months before she was allegedly killed by the same group.

In the interview, Rahman had called Raheem Swati a “land grabber and extortionist” and stated that the latter wanted to illegally occupy the land of the OPP’s office, the charge sheet had stated.

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