KARACHI: The high-profile Shahzeb Khan murder case took yet another turn as the Supreme Court on Saturday granted the civil society ‘the leave to appeal’ against an order of the Sindh High Court (SHC) whereby convictions and sentences of Shahrukh Jatoi and others had been set aside.
The apex court also ordered the interior secretary to place the names of Jatoi, Siraj Talpur, Sajjad Talpur and their employee Ghulam Murtaza Lashari on the Exit Control List (ECL) so as to bar them from leaving the country.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, directed the SHC nazir to ensure that the order about ECL was communicated to all airports in the country.
The court also issued bailable warrants for accused persons and directed the concerned senior police superintendent to arrest them and present them before the court in Islamabad on the next date of hearing.
The apex court will now decide two issues – the locus standi of the petitioners and the court’s earlier observations that the trial court can decide the nature of the case.
The bench, also comprising Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, passed the orders at the SC’s Karachi Registry while hearing a criminal petition filed by 10 civil society activists.
The activists include Jibran Nasir, Jamshed Raza Mahmood, Afiya Shehrbano Zia, Naeem Sadiq, Nazim Fida Hussain Haji, Zulfiqar Shah, Aquila Ismail, Fahim Zaman Khan, and Naziha Syed Ali.
The cold-blooded murder of Shahzeb, a 20-year-old son of SSP Auraugzeb Khan, had sparked protests by the civil society and debate over whether the country’s elite could be held accountable for crimes they committed as the accused belonged to powerful feudal families of Sindh.
The anti-terrorism court (ATC) on June 7, 2013 sentenced Jatoi and Siraj Talpur to death, while Sajjad and Lashari were awarded life imprisonment, as the judge found them guilty of shooting the unarmed youth to death over dispute that started with them teasing Shahzeb’s sister.
However, later the victim’s legal heirs struck a compromise and pardoned them ‘without accepting blood money’. Subsequently, an SHC division bench on November 28, 2017 ruled that the murder case does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.
The bench set aside the sentences and ordered a re-trial of the case by a sessions court. Subsequently, a district and sessions court last month granted bail to Jatoi and others after the deceased’s father submitted an affidavit in support of their bail applications.
On Saturday, the rights activists’ lawyer Faisal Siddiqui argued that they have the legal standing to file the petition for leave to appeal as they are citizens of Karachi and reside in the same locality – Defence Housing Authority – where the murder took place.
He claimed that the incident struck terror and created panic among the residents of the area, which they consider enough grounds to file the case, even though they did not directly know the deceased.
The counsel said the petitioners were personally terrorised and intimidated by the murder as it also created a sense of insecurity. He said the petition was being filed as a public interest appeal on behalf of the citizens of Karachi, especially the residents of Clifton and Defence, as well as the people of Pakistan.
The petitioners also claimed that there were at least two eyewitnesses to the murder, meaning that overwhelming evidence against the murderers is available.
Counsels for the accused – Latif Khosa and Babar Awan – briefly argued the matter, objecting to the petitioners’ standing to file the plea. They said the case did not fall within the ambit of the anti-terror law, thus the matter was rightly compromised by the victim’s legal heirs with the respondents.