An anti-terrorism court (ATC) has dismissed an application seeking the transfer of an extortion case to a sessions court for trial, ruling that it attracted the anti-terrorism law.
Zohaib Shafi has been booked for allegedly threatening and extorting Rs1 million from his business partner in June this year. The accused moved an application before the ATC-II judge under the Section 23 of Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 for transfer of the case to an ordinary court.
His lawyer Salman Mujahid Baloch contended that the alleged offence did not fall under the ATC’s jurisdiction. He said the case stemmed from personal enmity and vendetta as his clients and the complainant were both friends and ran a company with mutual partnership.
However, Advocate Haider Farooq Jatoi, the counsel for the complainant, submitted that the case involved a series of offences committed by the accused. Such acts of the accused and overall circumstances made it a case to be tried under the terrorism law, he added.
State prosecutor Pervaiz Ali Ghumro "quite surprisingly" raised no objection to the application, stating that the case was a result of personal enmity and therefore, did not fall within the ambit of the ATA 1997.
After hearing the arguments, the judge dismissed the application. He ruled that the sections 384, 385 and 386 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) were mentioned in the charge sheet. "It is worth noting that the Section 6 (2)(k) of AT Act 1997 provides that terrorism means involvement in extortion of money [Bhatta], and same offence is punishable U/s (h) of the same Act," he mentioned.
The ATC noted that previously, the defence counsel and the investigation officer (IO), Inspector Muhammad Aslam Jutt, had raised some serious questions about the competency and integrity of law officers working in the scrutiny branch of the prosecutor general’s (PG) office, adding that the IO had even made allegations of monetary demands by scrutiny branch officers.
The judge said that during the scrutiny of the charge-sheet filed in the present case, the relevant officer of the branch agreed with the IO's opinion on the inclusion of the terrorism charges.
"It is beyond comprehension that when the concerned ADPP of scrutiny branch of PG Office had specifically given his opinion/consent for trial of this case before this Court in October 2023, then how in less than one month the APG (working in this Court but under direct supervision of PG office) has shown no hesitation to give no-objection on transfer of this case to the Sessions Court," the judge wondered. "This conduct looks more astounding on consideration of fact that as so far even the charge has not been framed. The learned APG has not enlightened this Court that on basis of what new facts and circumstances, he is not in concurrence with opinion of scrutiny branch of his own department. I must say that such contradictory approaches or opinions on the part of prosecution would only aid fuel to the speculation about its conduct," the ATC judge went on.
The FIR was lodged under the sections 384 (extortion), 385 (putting person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion), 386 (extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt), 420 (cheating), 170 (personating a public servant) and 171 (wearing garb or carrying token used by public servant with fraudulent intent) of the PPC read with the Section 7 (punishment for acts of terrorism) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.
According to the complainant, he divorced his wife over illicit relationship with accused Zohaib and obtained a divorce certificate from the union committee (UC) concerned. He said Zohaib posing as a navy officer pressurised UC officials to cancel the certificate.
On June 17, 2023, the accused called him and demanded Rs10 million to settle the issue, he said, adding that he gave Zohaib Rs1 million in presence of witnesses out of fear but the accused kept threatening him and demanded more money.