KARACHI, Feb 4: In the last six years, the prosecution in the Nishtar Park blast case has presented for examination only one witness before an anti-terrorism court in one of the major acts of terrorism that claimed the lives of over 50 people, including the top leadership of the Sunni Tehreek.

This inordinate delay in the disposal of the case is a clear violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 as its Section 19 (7) says that the court shall, on taking cognizance of a case, proceed with the trial on a day-to-day basis and shall decide it within seven days, failing which an application may be made to the administrative judge of the high court concerned for appropriate directions for an expeditious disposal of the case.

Three accused said to be associated with the proscribed Lashkar-i-Jhangvi — Sultan Mahmood alias Saifullah, Mufti Zakir Hussain Siddiqui and Rehmatullah — have been charged with plotting the bomb attack on an Eid Milad-un-Nabi (peace be upon him) congregation at Nishtar Park in April 2006.

Currently, the case is pending before the Anti-Terrorism Court-I, which recorded the evidence of the first prosecution witness, a policeman who carried out legal formalities under Section 174 of the criminal procedure code, around 10 days ago and now the case is fixed for further evidence for Feb 7.

Initially, the case was sent to the ATC-V, Karachi, for trial, but the home department was tardy in issuing a notification for jail trial and in 2008 the ATC-V was shifted to Badin and the Nishtar Park bombing case was transferred to the ATC-II.

The then judge of the ATC-II, Abdul Ghafoor Memon, had on May 4, 2009 indicted four accused, including Mohammad Amin alias Khalid Shaheen, who denied the charges and opted to contest the case.

The judge had directed the prosecution to produce its witnesses in court. But the prosecution did not examine any witness till August 2009 when accused Amin moved an acquittal application under Section 265-K (power of court to acquit accused at any stage) of the CrPC. After hearing arguments from both sides, the court allowed the plea and acquitted the accused for want of evidence on Aug 19, 2009.

Following the acquittal of Mohammad Amin, the court framed amended charges against the remaining three accused on Sept 1, 2009. The accused again denied the charges and the court summoned the witnesses for the prosecution. But no evidence was recorded till Nov 20, 2009 when the contract of the trial judge expired.

The trial of the present case remained pending before the non-functional ATC-II for over 15 months. Finally, the case was transferred to the ATC-I for trial in March 2011.

Legal experts express grave concerns over an inordinate delay in the disposal of the case and suggest that the court hear the case on a day-to-day basis for its early disposal.

However, court sources fear that the trial may take many years to conclude as there are over 100 prosecution witnesses in the case.

Though the government appointed a special public prosecutor for this case, a lack of interest on the part of prosecuting and investigating agencies as well as the complainant party is one of the many reasons behind the delay in the disposal of the case, they add.

According to the prosecution, a massive bomb blast took place near the stage when participants in the 12th Rabi-ul-Awwal congregation were offering Maghrib prayers at Nishtar Park on April 11, 2006. Over 50 people, including Sunni Tehrik leaders Abbas Qadri and Iftikhar Bhatti, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal leader Hafiz Taqi and others, were killed while over 100 others wounded in the bombing.

The accused were arrested a couple of months after the terrorist attack and accused Sultan recorded his confessional statement before the court of a judicial magistrate and also implicated his accomplices in the offence.

The prosecution added that the suicide bomber, who was identified as Siddiq, used to live with the accused before the attack and they were also seen near the crime-scene at the time of the blast.

A case (FIR 71/06) was registered under Sections 302 (premeditated murder), 324 (attempted murder), 109 (punishment of abetment if the act abetted is committed in consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment), 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 114 (abettor present when offence is committed) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code and Sections 3, 4 of the Explosive Substance Act read with Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 at the Soldier Bazaar police station on a complaint of Mohammad Altaf Qadri.

Amanullah alias Mufti Ilyas, Qari Abid Iqbal and Khalid are the absconding accused in the case.