GILGIT: The Chief Court of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) has acquitted Baba Jan and 11 others, setting aside an earlier anti-terrorism court verdict that sentenced them to life imprisonment.
The acquittal was announced by G-B Chief Court’s Justice Muhammad Alam and Justice Yar Muhammad on Thursday. The chief court in the region has powers equivalent to high courts in the rest of the country.
Baba Jan, Iftikhar Hussain, Shakoorullah and nine others were sentenced to life in prison by an anti-terrorism court in October 2014 for allegedly ransacking a police station and torching government property in Hunza in 2011.
Senior lawyers Ehsan Ali, Amjad Hussain, Manzoor Ahmed and Zafar Iqbal represented Jan and others in the court. After the ATC sentence, the lawyers had appealed to the chief court.
“We are thankful to all well-wishers who lent their support to imprisoned activists in this difficult time,” Wajidullah, a member of Progress Youth Front (PYF), told The Express Tribune. Baba Jan is the chief organiser of PYF and the vice president of Awami Workers Party which was formed after the merger of three leftist parties in 2012.
Police shifted Jan from Gilgit Jail to Gahkuch Jail in Ghizer Valley Wednesday night, worrying his relatives and party activists who claimed they had been kept in the dark about the shifting.
“This was a strange move and created panic among Jan’s family and well-wishers,” said Wajidullah. “At least, his relatives should have been informed.”
Jan was among the nearly 100 people arrested for allegedly ransacking a police station and torching government offices in August 2011 after a clash with the police. Jan, a social activist, was accused of fuelling the riots and then of treason. He denied both charges.
Jan’s counsel Advocate Ehsan Ali said the arrest and subsequent conviction of his client and others was only an exercise in “pick and choose” as the mob which gathered that day consisted of thousands of people.
The clash erupted after protesters demanded compensation for land washed away by the formation of Attabad Lake. The police allegedly fired at the protesters to clear Karakoram Highway for the then chief minister Mehdi Shah’s convoy. Afzal Baig, 22, and his father Sherullah Baig were killed in the shooting.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2015.