Justice Sajjad Ali Shah of the Sindh High Court, in his capacity as the administrative judge for the Anti-Terrorism Courts of the Karachi division, ordered their release after even the case’s complainant failed to identify any of them.
He had named Muhammad Tufail, Abid Ali, Asghar Ali, Tahseen, Abdul Rasheed, Johar, M Aijaz, M Iqbal and Muhammad Akbar in the case.
Thirteen workers and owners of shops in the Shershah scrap market were killed on October 19, 2010, when unidentified men on motorcycles opened indiscriminate fire in the market. Six shopkeepers, Kashif, Arsalaan, Rashid, Zeeshan, Arif and Imran, were injured.
On Wednesday, the accused men were produced before the judge by the investigation officer, who wanted more time to question them, arguing that they were not cooperating and had not confessed any connection to the crime.
The man who registered the case, Muhammad Nafees, was in court because of orders passed on January 19.
At the last hearing, the court had ordered for a joint interrogation team to submit a report. It was presented to the judge on Wednesday. When the judge asked Muhammad Nafees to identify the accused men present in custody, he said he had never seen them before and they were complete strangers.
Rao M Sharif, counsel for the complainant assisting the Special Public Prosecutor, said the complainant was not identifying the men because he was scared. If their remand were extended, we may discover something more, he added.
The bench declined the request, however, and ordered the release of all the men accused in the case.
Neither was any material connecting the accused to commission of the said crime placed on the record nor was an identification parade carried out and since all the accused were named with parentage, therefore the attendance of the complainant was directed.
The IO stated that despite all efforts by him none of the witnesses was ready to identify any of the accused.
The halfhearted request for the extension of remand by the IO was without any purpose, the AJ said in his detailed order.
He then directed the police to release the accused men under section 497 (2) of the CrPC after they furnish personal bonds before the IO.
An FIR was registered on October 20, on the basis of a written statement by complainant, Muhammad Nafees.
The Gulbahar police first arrested Lal Muhammad Magsi and later nominated Aslam Pervez, Shafi Muhammad and Nawaz.
The nine accused men acquitted on Wednesday had voluntarily surrendered before the Special Investigation Unit earlier this month while three others, Hameed alias Mulla Raju, Noor Muhammad alias Baba Ladla and Rashid, are still absconding.
Talking to the media on Wednesday, one of the acquitted men said that they are all poor workers in the graveyard adjacent to the place of the attack (Mewashah graveyard). We are not part of the alleged Lyari gang, he added.
Special Public Prosecutor Arshad Cheema said that the accused have been exonerated for want of evidence but they can face a trial if any investigator manages to find evidence against them. He said that the state should have been the complainant in this case rather than an individual person.
To another question on whether an order was passed against the complainant for lodging a false FIR, Cheema said that if at any stage it was proved that the FIR was false, prosecution under Section 173 of the CrPC would be initiated against the complainant.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2011.