FIA seeks capital punishment in Benazir case, says ATC passed verdict ‘in a hurry’

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Friday challenged the verdict of an anti-terrorism court in the Benazir Bhutto murder case, arguing that the two guilty policemen as well as the five men acquitted of all charges deserve capital punishment.

Last month, ATC had announced the verdict in the murder case, acquitting five Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan suspects — Rafaqat Hussain, Husnain Gul, Sher Zaman, Rashid Ahmed and Aitzaz Shah — and announcing 17-year imprisonment for two former police officials. The court had also declared retired Gen Pervez Musharraf an absconder in the case.

The FIA moved the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the sentence through two separate petitions submitted on Friday. The first one argues that the two convicted culprits were not punished under the terrorism charges which were part of the case.

The counsel for the agency also said that the ATC passed the verdict in a hurry without fulfilling legal requirements. According to the petition, filed in the Rawalpindi registry of the LHC, the two police officers — former City Police Officer Saood Aziz and former Superintendent Police Khurrum Shahzad — were sentenced under only two clauses each, whereas several other clauses, including terrorism, were also part of the case.

The petition said that the 17-year imprisonment granted to both culprits was much less than what they deserved, demanding capital punishment for them.

The second petition states that the five accused who were set free had also confessed to their involvement before a magistrate, so they also deserved rigorous sentences.

The five men were arrested within three months after the murder and they had confessed to their crime before a magistrate while weapons and other materials were also recovered from their possession, said the petition.

The FIA asked the LHC to overturn the ATC’s decision, issue orders to arrest the five men, and award death sentences to them as well as the the two former police officers.

The LHC accepted the petition, setting a date for the hearing of the case on October 2. Assistant Attorney General Faisa Mahmood Raja will be representing the FIA in the court.

Nearly 10-year long case

PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari also challenged the ATC verdict of Aug 31 in LHC’s Rawalpindi bench earlier this month, seeking death penalty for retired Gen Pervez Musharraf and the two senior police officers.

In three appeals, Zardari has challenged the acquittal of the five TTP suspects, objected to the 17-year prison term awarded to Aziz and Shehzad, and asked why the ATC judge separated the case of Gen Musharraf, when 68 witnesses, including US lobbyist Mark Siegel, had testified in the matter a couple of years ago.

According to the appeal, “retired General Pervez Musharraf, Saud Aziz and Khurram Shehzad cannot escape the gallows”.

A bench, comprising Justice Tariq Abbasi and Justice Habibullah Amir, summoned the entire record of the ATC proceedings and adjourned further hearings until Nov 27.

Following the verdict, the late prime minister’s children had expressed their displeasure with the judgement; PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had deemed the decision “disappointing and unacceptable” while Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari and Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari both called for a harsher punishment for Musharraf.

During the course of the case, 68 witnesses appeared on behalf of the prosecution and recorded their testimonies. The police presented three challans before the court, whereas the FIA presented five.

The judge hearing the case was changed eight times.

In 2013, FIA’s special prosecutor in the case was killed by unknown assailants. Doctors said he had been killed with 10 bullets targeting his chest and shoulder.