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Tuesday January 31, 2023

Naqeebullah murder case: ATC acquits all accused, including Rao Anwar

Verdict comes exactly five years after gruesome killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud that triggered nationwide protests

January 23, 2023
A former police officer Rao Anwar speaks with the media after a court acquitted him over the killing of a shopkeeper in Karachi, on January 23, 2023. — AFP
A former police officer Rao Anwar speaks with the media after a court acquitted him over the killing of a shopkeeper in Karachi, on January 23, 2023. — AFP 

KARACHI: In a major development, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Monday acquitted all accused including Malir's former senior superintendent of police (SSP) Rao Anwar in the high-profile Naqeebullah Mehsud murder case.

Naqeebullah, 27, an aspiring model from South Waziristan was shot dead in controversial circumstances on January 13, 2018, in the city's outskirts.

The court, while announcing the verdict reserved on January 14, said that the prosecution failed to prove charges against Anwar and co-accused.

The verdict comes exactly five years after the gruesome killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud that triggered nationwide protests against the former SSP and his team. 

Jubilant Anwar praises verdict in 'fake' case

Speaking to media after the acquittal, Anwar said a "fake" case was filed against him but thanks to the Almighty and judge this false allegation has been proved wrong.

A visibly jubilant Anwar said that he will give a detailed response on the media later.

He claimed that 25 people were wrongly nominated in the murder case, saying the person killed was a wanted terrorist whose name was Naseemullah and not Naqeebullah.

“He was a wanted militant about whom advertisements were also given including newspapers.”

When asked whether he would like to rejoin the police department, the former police official said one year of his service is left and he “would like to serve Karachi”.

“I freed Karachi from many cruel people.”

‘Travesty of justice’

Following the announcement of the verdict, activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir said that the judgment will be appealed before the high court by the legal heirs of the deceased.

“Rao Anwar [and] 17 other police officials acquitted in Naqeebullah Mehsud case. A travesty of justice but not a surprise in a system where every institution is rotting away like a dead body,” he wrote on Twitter.

Concluding arguments

The complainant's counsel, Advocate Sallahuddin Panhwar, stated in his closing arguments that the case involved three episodes: the abduction of Naqeeb, his illegal detention and later, the extrajudicial killing.

He said Naqeeb, and his friends Hazrat Ali and Qasim, were abducted from Gulsher Agha Hotel on Abul Hassan Isphani Road on January 3, 2018.

He added that Anwar and other accused demanded Rs1 million ransom for his release, adding Ali and Qasim were released from illegal detention on January 6 while Naqeeb was handed over to the Shah Latif Town police.

Panhwar added that on January 13, Naqeeb and three others were shot dead in a staged encounter in Usman Khaskheli Goth by the accused police officers who dubbed the victims as terrorists.

He said, “geofencing, a technical analysis of call data records and circumstantial evidence suggested the involvement of Rao Anwar in the extrajudicial killings.”

“Anwar in his statement recorded under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) also admitted that he had knowledge of the matter and also led a convoy to the crime scene after being contacted by the SHO Shah Latif Town,” the counsel added.

He argued that the former SSP abetted the kidnapping for ransom and murder of the victim and later tried to cover up the unlawful acts by billing the victims as militants. He pleaded with the court to punish the accused police officers according to the law.

On the other hand, defence lawyers Abid Zaman and Aamir Mansoob contended that there were discrepancies in the statements of the witnesses and requested the judge to acquit their clients.

According to the prosecution, the call data record showed Rao Anwar’s presence at the crime scene and near the New Sabzi Mandi on the Super Highway on January 4, 5, 8, 9 and 13.

However, Rao Anwar in his statement had denied the allegations of being involved in the extrajudicial killings and testified that he was not present at the place of the occurrence at the time of the incident, nor did he ever visit the new Sabzi Mandi between January 4 and 6, 2018.

He claimed that he was implicated in the case based on “managed geo-fencing and call data record” at the behest of a senior police officer he had a professional rivalry.

The former SSP, eluding law enforcers for two months, had surrendered before the Supreme Court and was subsequently taken into custody. He was shifted to a house-turned-sub-jail in the Malir cantonment area instead of being kept in the central jail and finally released on bail in July 2018.

The trial

Mehsud was allegedly abducted, illegally detained and later killed in a "fake encounter", which was widely regarded as a case of extra-judicial killing.

Police had claimed that the four men including Mehsud who were killed in the shootout belonged to the outlawed "Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan". However, the victim's family rejected the police's stance, saying that the 27-year-old had no links with any militant organisation. 

Following the nationwide outcry and condemnation of the killing, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had taken suo motu notice of the extrajudicial killing on January 19, 2018. 

Two months later, Anwar, after eluding the law enforcers was finally arrested upon his surrender before the apex court in March 2018. He was then shifted to a house-turned-sub-jail in the Malir cantonment area instead of being kept in the central jail and finally released on bail in July 2018.

After over four years since then, Anwar, in his statement recorded under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) before ATC's judge. 

During the prolonged trial, as many as 51 witnesses, including five eyewitnesses — Muhammad Qasim, Hazrat Ali, Sharoob Khan, Humayun and Afsar Khan — recorded their testimonies. However, Rao and others, indicted in the case on March 25, 2019, claimed their innocence while denying the charges.

According to the prosecution, the "geofencing, a technical analysis of call data records and circumstantial evidence" showed Rao Anwar’s presence at the crime scene and near the New Sabzi Mandi on the Super Highway on January 4, 5, 8, 9 and 13.

However, Rao Anwar in his testimony had denied the allegations of being involved in the extrajudicial killings and testified that he was not present at the place of the occurrence at the time of the incident, nor did he ever visit the new Sabzi Mandi between January 4 and 6, 2018.

He claimed that he was implicated in the case based on “managed geo-fencing and call data record” at the behest of a senior police officer he had a professional rivalry.