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Monday July 15, 2024

Shahbaz Bhatti murder case moving at a snail’s pace

ISLAMABAD: The federal government has yet to transfer the murder case of the former Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti to a military court for a speedy trial despite the fact that the case proceedings are moving at a snail’s pace even after a lapse of four years, mainly because of

By Amir Mir
January 23, 2015
ISLAMABAD: The federal government has yet to transfer the murder case of the former Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti to a military court for a speedy trial despite the fact that the case proceedings are moving at a snail’s pace even after a lapse of four years, mainly because of the threats faced by the concerned judges, the prosecutors and the witnesses.
Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead in the federal capital on March 3, 2011. The police had later found a letter from the crime scene, written by Tanzeem al-Qaeda Tehrik-e-Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the murder adding that he was killed for opposing the misuse of the blasphemy laws. Almost four years after the assassination, the trial is not moving ahead despite the fact that the Islamabad Police claim to have arrested all the accused, including those who had shot Bhatti who sat that time was accompanied by his guard and driver. The level of risks being faced by those dealing with his murder case can be gauged from the fact that Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had refused [on January 21, 215] to hear an acquittal plea filed by one of the accused in the Shahbaz Bhatti murder case, Abdullah Umar, who is the son of a retired lieutenant colonel.
Earlier, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, the Federal Investigation Agency’s chief prosecutor in the Bhatti murder case, was shot dead in broad day light in Islamabad on [May 3, 2013]. Three men in a Mehran vehicle (GAL-1171) opened fire on his vehicle near G-9 Markaz, killing him on the spot. The Islamabad Police had subsequently arrested from a local hospital an injured Abdullah Umar/son of Lt Col (R) Khalid Mahmood Abbasi, who confessed to killing Zulfiqar Ali along with four co-accomplices, Hammad Adil, Adnan Adil, Tanveer Ahmed and Harris Khan. While Abdullah was seriously injured after Ch Zulfiqar’s guards returned fire during the attack, another assailant (Harris Khan) was killed in cross firing and was buried by his aides in the lawn of the Adil brothers’ house in Rawalpindi.
However, ever since Chaudhry Zulfiqar’s assassination, the Bhatti murder case is going nowhere despite the fact that the Islamabad police had arrested all the three accused in the case who had also confessed to the killing. The trial of the accused suffered a major setback after Bhatti’s brother, Dr Paul Bhatti, an ex-federal minister himself, Chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance as well as the chairperson of the Shahbaz Bhatti Memorial Trust, had to leave Pakistan to save his life after a threatening letter written by the ‘Fidayaan-e-Mohammad, Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’ was dropped at his Faisalabad office.
The letter contained a warning not to pursue the Shahbaz Bhatti murder case against the arrested TTP militants, or get ready to face the same fate as suffered by Shahbaz, who was a Catholic Christian and a vocal opponent of the misuse of the blasphemy law. Paul Bhatti, who is the complainant in the Bhatti murder case, is spending most of his time in Italy in the wake of the threats to his life, which has obviously affected the progress of the case. According to Rana Abdul Hameed, Dr Paul’s lawyer in the Bhatti murder case, he too had received death threats but would stand up to extremists and bring the trial to its logical conclusion.
“I constantly receive death threats but I have pledged myself to pursue the case,” he said. Abdul Hameed also represented Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl who fled to Canada with her family last year after the charges were dropped. “Pamphlets are dropped in my office warning me to disassociate myself from the case” he said. “They say you freed Rimsha, now you are trying to convict our comrades, you should be taught a lesson,” he added. “Paul Bhatti is abroad, he cannot come to Pakistan, our witness has been threatened, we are receiving constant threats, what can you then expect from the case, it won’t go anywhere,” he added.
Advocate Rana Abdul Hameed had filed a petition in Supreme Court of Pakistan on October 22, 2014, seeking transfer of the murder case from an Islamabad Anti Terrorism Court to a Faisalabad Anti-Terrorism Court, pleading that neither the petitioners not the witnesses and the lawyers are being provided adequate security despite orders from the trial court. It was also maintained in the petition that all the main stakeholders in the case were from Faisalabad and, therefore, considering the threat to their lives, the case should be transferred to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Faisalabad. As no action was taken on the application, Abdul Hameed wants the federal government to transfer the murder case to the recently established military courts.
The Islamabad Police have already sent an official request to the Ministry of Interior to transfer the Shahbaz Bhatti murder case to a military court. According to details of the case, Abdullah Umar alias Ghulam Ullah had joined the TTP as a reaction to avenge the alleged humiliation his father, Lt Col (R) Khalid Mahmood Abbasi had suffered after being arrested, court-martialled and convicted for his alleged role in the December 2003 failed bid to kill General (R) Pervez Musharraf in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. Abdullah Umar, a student of the International Islamic University (IIU), Islamabad, was arrested in June 2013 for killing Ch Zulfiqar in a bid to save the assassins of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto (who belonged to the TTP) against whom the FIA’s chief prosecutor had gathered credible evidence.
Abdullah Umar was arrested almost a month after Zulfiqar’s murder from a privately-run hospital in Islamabad - Quaid-e-Azam International hospital. He was paralysed below the waist at the time of his arrest due a bullet fired by Farman, the bodyguard of Zulfiqar, which had hit his spinal column. Interrogations revealed that Abdullah Umar also took part in the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti besides being a part of another deadly terrorist attack on the Parade Lane Mosque in Rawalpindi which was frequented by retired and serving Army officers. The mosque attack was carried out on December 4, 2009, killing some 40 people.
According to the police investigations, after killing Zulfiqar Ali, the accomplices of Umar Abdullah, who was badly injured after receiving a bullet in his backbone, took him to District Headquarters Hospital Rawalpindi where they told doctors that he was fired upon by dacoits. He was then shifted to a private hospital by his father, Lt Col Abbasi, who had lodged a false FIR with the Ratta Amral police station of Rawalpindi, saying that Abdullah was fired upon by dacoits. But the investigators found Abdullah Umar’s clue from a pistol and a cell phone which were recovered from the crime scene when he was whisked away by his co-accomplices in a taxi. One of the eyewitnesses noted the registration number of the yellow taxi which was traced to be registered in Gujranwala. Abdullah was subsequently arrested from the hospital on June 12, 2013 and shifted to a government hospital.
The police had then arrested Hammad Adil and Adnan Adil belonging to Bara Kahu area of Islamabad on August 31, 2013 while the fourth accused, Tanveer Ahmed, is still absconding. In December 2013, an anti-terrorism court of Rawalpindi indicted Abdullah Umar, Hammad Adil and Adnan Adil in the murder case of Shahbaz Bhatti. However, as Abdullah’s father had filed an application with the ATC, seeking his bail on medical grounds [stating that his son is completely paralysed and has become no more than a breathing corpse], the lawyers in Shahbaz and Zulfiqar murder cases decided not to oppose his request on compassionate grounds. Abdullah was subsequently bailed out by the ATC on June 25, 2014 with orders to submit surety bonds of Rs4 million while restricting his travel abroad.
The fatal bullet that hit Abdullah Umar and found its way to his spine has completely crippled him for the little glimmer of life he is left with. The son of a soldier would not have thought of facing his doom before D-Day when he chose to take the matter of life and death of others in his hands. Ironically, fate has him hanging in between both. As his son was bailed out on medical grounds, Lt Col Abbasi proceeded further and filed an application with the Islamabad High Court on January 21, 2015, requesting to acquit him in the case. But one of the division bench judges, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, refused to hear the case and referred it to the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court with a request to constitute a new bench excluding him.
It may be recalled that Lt Col Khalid Mahmood Abbasi, who was court-martialled and convicted for his alleged role in the December 2003 failed bid to kill Musharraf, was posted at Kohat at the time of his arrest. He was a religious-minded person who used to deliver daily lessons from the Holy Quran to his junior officers. Abbasi was arrested following the 2003 capture of Major Adil Qudoos [of 45 Signals] for facilitating the stay of the former chief operational commander of al-Qaeda, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, in Rawalpindi. Khalid Sheikh was arrested in June 2003 from the Rawalpindi residence of Major Adil Qudoos’ brother, Ahmad Abdul Qudoos, who was an active member of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan.