KARACHI/LAHORE: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Monday set aside life imprisonment and other sentences awarded to five persons by the trial court in Orangi Pilot Project’s director Perween Rehman’s murder case. The court observed that the prosecution failed to prove charges against them.
Mohammad Raheem Swati was sentenced to twice life imprisonment along with his three other accomplices for murdering Orangi Pilot Project’s director Perween Rehman in Orangi town area. The court also sentenced Imran Swati, son of Raheem Swati, and three others to seven years in prison for abetment and concealment of evidence.
Abdul Raheem Swati, Ayaz Ali Swati, Ahmed Khan alias Pupoo Kashmiri, Mohammad Amjad Hussain and Mohammad Imran Swati, who were activists of Awami National Party, had been prosecuted for murdering Perween Rehman on March 13, 2013.
Prosecution alleged that accused who were activists of ANP wanted to get OPP office for purpose of Karate center in Orangi Town area and on refusal they hatched conspiracy to kill Perween Rehman through paid killers of banned militant outfit Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
Appellants have submitted in the appeals that prosecution failed to prove charges against them as trial court did not consider material contradiction in statements of the prosecution witnesses. They submitted that prosecution failed to associate even a single private witness of the alleged incident in thickly populated area which makes the case of the prosecution highly doubtful.
They submitted that prosecution itself alleged that Perween Rehman was killed by target killer Shuldad who was let off at time of submitting charge sheet and they were abettors. They submitted that confessional statement of Raheem Swati could not be relied upon as it was disowned by him. They requested the court to set aside the trial court order and acquit them from the charges.
Additional prosecutor general and complainant counsel submitted that appellant Raheem Swati had confessed to murdering of Perween Rehman in his statement and prosecution proved its case beyond any reasonable doubt.
SHC’s division bench comprising Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha and Justice Zulfiqar Ali Sangi after hearing the arguments and perusal of the evidence observed that none of accused have been charged with actually murdering Perween Rehman and appellants have been accused of planning, instigating and in effect abetting the murder.
The court observed that the case also does not fall within the purview of anti-terrorism law as motive of the murder was not creating terror but grabbing some of the land of the OPP and acquitted all appellants from anti-terrorism charges.
Regarding confessional statement of the appellant Raheem Swati, the court observed that it appears from evidence that prosecution took little steps to prove or corroborate the confession as no cellular data record of accused persons was collected and on alleged target killers Shuldad, Moosa and Balo who were named in the confession as participants in murder were either not found or let off.
The court held that disowned confessional statement of appellant Raheem Swati made before SSP Akhtar Farooq was inadmissible in the law. The court observed that charges of abetment and common intention have not been proved against appellants as there was no evidence that appellants instigated any of alleged murderers. The court observed that there was no evidence that any of appellants either knew or were connected in any way to Qari Bilal, a suspect who was killed in police encounter whose recovered pistol matched the empties recovered at the crime scene.
The court observed that there was no evidence that appellants acted or committed to do anything to abet the murder including providing the firearm and payment to hired assassins. The court also rejected joint investigation team’s report as evidence in the case, observing that JIT report was no more than an opinion of the investigation officer.
The court observed that prosecution failed to prove charges against appellants beyond any reasonable doubt given. The court acquitted all appellants from murder and terrorism charges and ordered their release if not required in other cases.
The family of Perween Rehman expressed disappointment over the acquittal. The family said that they will challenge the SHC judgment before the Supreme Court.
They also requested the government to detain the accused as they are hardened, desperate and dangerous criminals, who pose grave and imminent threat to the family of Perween Rahman and the entire staff of OPP. They said that release of all the accused persons including the principle accused Raheem Sawati, who lives right across the OPP office, might force OPP office to close down. They requested the Sindh government to detain them under Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, 1960 or under any other relevant law.
It is pertinent to mention that main accused Raheem Swati had confessed to the crime before the judicial magistrate stating that he wanted to open Karate center on the premises which was refused by Ms Rehman, therefore, he, along with other co-accused, gathered at his home and planned to get rid of Perween Rehman because of her ridiculous attitude.
He said that they contacted banned TTP commander Mosa and Mahfoozullah alias Bhalo, from Ayaz Sawati mobile phone, in this regard, who assured them that job will be done in lieu of some monetary benefits. He stated that accused Ayaz Swati and Amjad Afridi came to his house and informed him that Moosa, Mehfoozullah and Papu Kashmiri had killed Perween Rehman, thereafter they went into hiding as his name was also nominated as an accused in the present case.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also expressed its dissatisfaction over the acquittal. “Given gravity of the crime and the substantial evidence on record, including an admissible confession by the principal accused, we believe that justice was not done,” HRCP said in a press release issued Monday.
HRCP is also concerned that the accused, once released, will pose a grave and imminent threat to Rehman’s family and her colleagues at OPP. “We urge the Sindh government to detain the accused under the relevant laws and to provide her family, colleagues and legal team adequate security.”
The HRCP said the murder was the product of a system in which the rule of law is easily subverted and human rights defenders have to risk their lives to merely do their jobs. Her family has waited over nine years to get justice. The Sindh government must file an immediate appeal against the court’s judgment, while the state as a whole should reflect on its ability to provide justice to victims of violence.
HRCP also expressed its continuing solidarity with Rehman’s family as they proceed to appeal against the verdict before the Supreme Court of Pakistan.