In a major judgment that caps a decade of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court on Tuesday acquitted Shahrukh Jatoi and other accomplices in the 2012 Shahzeb murder case.
A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and comprising Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, heard the case.
The case pertained to the murder of 20-year-old Shahzeb Khan in December 2012 in an upscale Karachi area following a petty dispute by Jatoi and his accomplice Siraj Ali Talpur who were awarded death sentence by an anti-terrorism court. Siraj’s younger brother, Sajjad Ali Talpur, and domestic helper Ghulam Murtaza Lashari had been handed life sentences.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Jatoi’s counsel Latif Khosa argued that “the parties have already reached an agreement”. “The accused had no intention of spreading terror,” he said and added, “The murder event was presented as a case of terrorism”.
The attorney general for Pakistan (AGP), meanwhile, said that a review appeal would be filed against the apex court decision.
Office of the Attorney General of Pakistan has announced filing a review petition against today's Order of Hon' SC acquitting #ShahrukhJatoi of terrorism charges and has stated that SC should have considered possibility of conviction under Fasad-fil-arz. Hope justice prevails pic.twitter.com/bEONMPkfQu— M. Jibran Nasir 🇵🇸 (@MJibranNasir) October 18, 2022
Shahzeb Khan, the son of former deputy superintendent of police Aurangzeb Khan, was gunned down on Saba Avenue in Karachi's Defence Housing Authority (DHA) on the night of December 24, 2012.
Shahzeb had returned home from a wedding party with his family when an employee of the accused verbally harassed his sister. He confronted the accused and demanded an apology.
The accused, however, were remorseless and refused to apologise for the behaviour of their employee. The issue was apparently resolved when Shahzeb's father intervened and tried to pacify both his son and the other party.
Soon after, Shahzeb left his house in his car and was on Saba Avenue when the accused chased him down and shot him dead in public.
The murder sparked outrage across the country leading to then chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, taking suo motu notice of the incident.
In June 2013, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) awarded the death penalty to Shahrukh and Siraj Talpur, while Sajjad Talpur and Ghulam Murtaza Lashari were given life imprisonment.
Shahrukh was handed down an additional three years in prison for illegal possession of a weapon. The ATC also directed the convicts to pay a Rs500,000 fine each.
As he had walked out of the court after the verdict was announced, Shahrukh Jatoi had posed with victory signs for the countless cameras trained on him. This behaviour again drew condemnations from civil society.
A few months after the verdict, however, the victim's father granted a pardon to the accused. Reportedly, the pardon was granted under duress. The convicts then again approached the Sindh High Court (SHC) for a review of the verdict.
In November 2017, the SHC decided on the criminal review petition, set aside the capital punishment awarded to the two accused and ordered a retrial.
The defence counsel had argued for the terrorism charges to be dropped considering the prime suspect was a juvenile at the time of the offence.
Shahrukh's age had been contentious from the early stages of the trial when a medical report had determined his age to be between 17 and 18 years at the time of the incident.
The report was rejected by the ATC and a seven-member medical board had subsequently determined that Shahrukh was no less than 19 years old.
The SHC, however, granted the defence's plea for the removal of sections of the anti-terror law.
In December 2017, the sessions court released all the accused on bail. The move again sparked anger among civil society and several activists approached the apex court against the SHC's verdict.
The activists included 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, who filed a criminal petition in the apex court, challenging the SHC order.
The petition, filed through renowned lawyer Faisal Siddiqui, asserted that residents of the same city where Shahzeb was murdered, had filed a criminal petition for leave-to-appeal, challenging the SHC order for not applying ATA provisions and setting aside the conviction recorded by the trial court.
The petition had said the incident of gruesome murder had created fear and insecurity among the general public. The civil society members had claimed that the fear and panic among the residents of the area offered enough grounds for them to file the case, even though they did not directly know the deceased.
They said they were personally terrorised and intimidated by the murder.
In February 2018, the SC turned the petitions by civil society into a suo motu notice and set aside the 2017 SHC decision, ordering a retrial.
The apex court also restored terrorism charges framed against the accused - Shahrukh, Siraj and Sajjad - which had been removed by the SHC. The SC bench ruled that bails granted to the accused by the sessions court were against the law.
Shortly after the verdict was announced, the accused were taken into custody in Islamabad and handed over to the Sindh Police. Their names were also placed on the Exit Control List.
Over the course of one year, the SHC heard arguments from both parties in favour and against the convictions and commuted in 2019 the capital punishment awarded to two prime accused in the Shahzeb Khan murder case - Shahrukh Jatoi and Siraj Talpur - into life imprisonment.
The high court also upheld the life imprisonment sentence awarded to two other accused, Sajjad and Ghulam. The decision was announced by Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Nazar Akbar on the review of petitions filed by the accused against their conviction.
The accused had then filed appeals in the Supreme Court against the life imprisonment sentence and were acquitted on Tuesday.
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