The former prime minister was sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court upheld the sentence in March 1979. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari signed on Friday a reference which seeks to reopen the case of former prime minister and PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was hanged on April 4, 1979, in Rawalpindi.

The execution has been widely termed a ‘judicial murder’.

Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the reference signed in the presence of Law Minister Babar Awan and Sindh Home Minister Zulfikar Mirza would now be sent to the Supreme Court by the ministry of law.

The president had been authorised by the federal cabinet last week to send such a reference to the apex court.

Article 186 of the Constitution under which the reference has been signed states: (1) “If, at any time, the president considers that it is desirable to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court on any question of law which he considers of public importance, he may refer the question to the Supreme Court for consideration.”

The former prime minister was sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court upheld the sentence in March 1979.

Clause 2 of the Article 186 states: “The Supreme Court shall consider a question so referred and report its opinion on the question to the president”.

The spokesman said: “The PPP had never intended to seek revenge but it wanted to put right a historic wrong and thereby vindicate the position of the founding chairman of the party.”

He recalled that a judge of the Supreme Court bench which had upheld the death sentence later publicly acknowledged that the split verdict was given under pressure of the dictator who ruled the country at that time.

In a TV talk show on Friday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also said that former chief justice Naseem Hassan Shah admitted that the death sentence verdict had been given under immense pressure.

The PPP decided to file the reference after an attempt was made to establish a criminal cases review commission to review what the government called “possible miscarriages” of justice in criminal courts, including the execution of the former prime minister.

Mr Gilani is reported to have approved the proposal after a presentation given by the then adviser Nawabzada Ghazanfar Gul.

Mr Gul who is said to be the brain behind the idea has worked on the subject after studying Britain’s Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

But the matter had been kept on hold because of concerns that it could spark another tussle between judiciary and the government.

The presidential spokesman said Mr Bhutto was executed by the military dictatorship despite appeals made by world leaders and serious reservations expressed by international jurists over the legal propriety of the sentence.

He said the body of the assassinated prime minister was flown secretly in the dead of night to Larkana and buried secretly. Even family members were not allowed to attend the funeral and the last rites.

“The then regime published in newspapers pictures of the funeral prayer to show that local people had attended the burial. On investigation, however, it was found that the few people shown in the picture taken on the occasion were not locals and had apparently been brought from outside,” he said.