KARACHI: Five years after the gruesome killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in what was largely believed to be a staged encounter on the outskirts of Karachi, Malir's former senior superintendent of police (SSP) Rao Anwar and his 17 subordinates were exonerated from the extrajudicial murder and other charges by an anti-terrorism court that gave them the benefit of the doubt on Monday.
The ATC-XVI judge, who conducted the trial in the judicial complex inside the central jail, announced the judgement he had reserved after recording evidence and final arguments from both sides. He ruled that “I am of the considered view that the prosecution failed to bring home guilt of the accused beyond any reasonable doubt. For giving benefit of doubt to an accused it is not necessary that there should be many circumstances creating doubt. One single circumstance leading towards the real doubt is sufficient to acquit the accused,” he added.
The former SSP, along with his two dozen subordinates, was charged with murdering Naqeebullah and three other detainees in a staged shootout in January 2018 after dubbing them as militants. Initially, the police had claimed that the four people killed in a shootout in Malir area were terrorists, but it emerged later that one of the victim was an aspiring model from South Waziristan and not a militant, triggering outcry on the social media and widespread protests by civil society, demanding punishment for the ex-SSP and his team.
The former SSP surrendered before the Supreme Court after two months on the lam. He was arrested in Islamabad and brought back to Karachi where he was kept in a house-turned sub-jail in Malir cantonment before being released on bail in July in the same year. A year later in March 2019, Anwar and his 17 subordinates were indicted for the extrajudicial murder of Naqeebullah and three others.
Anwar, along with former DSP Qamar Ahmed Shaikh and other policemen Mohammad Yaseen, Khizar Hayat, Syed Raees Abbas Zaidi and Suprud Hussain, were out on bail, while 12 others including Allah Yar Kaka, Muhammad Iqbal, Arshad Ali, Ghulam Nazuk, Shafiq Ahmed, Muhammad Anar, Khair Muhammad, Faisal Mehmood, Ali Akbar, Syed Imran Kazmi, Abdul Ali and Shakeel were in judicial custody. Seven accused had been declared absconders.
Announcing the judgement, the judge said, “Since the sufficient evidence in terms of reliability, cohesion, trustworthiness has not been collected nor produced regarding happening of the incident of abduction of abductees Hazrat Ali, Muhammad Qasim and deceased Naqeebullah, no sufficient reliable evidence beyond reasonable shadow of doubts regarding participation of the accused in the fake police encounter and their sharing of common intention with absconding accused is produced, the right of benefit of doubt cannot be withheld even in high profile cases like this one.”
Noting the gruesome nature of the incident, he said the court, despite being main component of criminal justice system, could only act upon evidence and material presented before them, which was to be collected by the executive, adding that courts could not be blamed if the executive/police fail in their duty. The government has to ensure that cogent evidence to support prosecution is collected and presented in the court.
He ordered that the accused, who appeared from jail, be released forthwith if their custody was not required in any other case. He kept the case against the absconding accused, who had been declared proclaimed offenders on dormant till their arrest or surrender.
Before the pronouncement of the judgement, the former SSP appeared to be confident about his chances of getting clean chit in the case. He walked out of the courtroom, all smiles with people accompanying him chanting slogans ‘Rao Anwar Zindabad’.
Talking to the media, Anwar thanked God and said the “fake case” lodged against him was quashed today. He added he would give his detailed response to the allegations in interviews and TV talk shows.
The former SSP said 25 people were wrongly charged with the murder and the person shot dead was a wanted militant and a proclaimed offender whose name was Naseemullah and not Naqeebullah. When asked if he would like to rejoin the police, he said he wanted to “serve Karachi for last one year of his service”.
Advocate Salahuddin Panhwar, counsel for the complainant in the case, lamented that it was difficult to prove allegations in cases involving police officers since accused, investigators and police officers in such cases are all policemen who support each other. “This case also suffered from the same pattern,” he added and maintained that two key witnesses, Sub-Inspector Rana Asif and Head Constable Shahzada Jahangir, retracted their statements against the accused, but no departmental action was taken against them. He said they kept filing applications for provision of protection to witnesses, who were under constant threat, but no protection was provided to them despite the court orders, vowing that the ATC judgement would be challenged before the Sindh High Court.
In April, 218, the then army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had met Muhammad Khan, father of Naqeeb, and assured him of justice. Khan died in Dec 2019.
According to the prosecution, Naqeeb, along with Hazrat Ali and Qasim, was allegedly abducted from Gulsher Agha Hotel on Abul Hassan Isphani Road on January 3, 2018, by the accused police officers, who demanded Rs1 million ransom for his release. Ali and Qasim were released from illegal detention on January 6 while Naqeeb was handed over to the Shah Latif Town police. 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.
“Geofencing, a technical analysis of call data records and circumstantial evidence suggested the involvement of Rao Anwar in the extrajudicial murder of Naqeeb and others,” Panhwar had said in his closing arguments. “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 prosecution said 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, recorded before the court in November last year, had denied the allegations of being involved in the extrajudicial killing and testified that he was not present at the place of the occurrence at the time of the incident, nor did he ever visit new Sabzi Mandi between January 4 and 6, 2018. He claimed that he was implicated in the case on the basis of “managed geo-fencing and call data record” at the behest of a senior police officer he had professional rivalry with.
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