ATC acquitted five men from Benazir Bhutto murder case
01 September, 2017
RAWALPINDI: An anti-terrorism court on Thursday acquitted five men - accused of being Taliban - who had been blamed for being involved in the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and branded former military ruler General (r) Pervez Musharraf a fugitive in the murder trial.
The verdicts are the first to be issued since Benazir Bhutto, the first female prime minister of a Muslim country, was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack nearly a decade ago, sparking street violence and plunging Pakistan into months of political turmoil.
The judge also found two police officers guilty of "mishandling the crime scene", the court official said, making them the only people to have been convicted over the assassination.
Saud Aziz, who was the police chief in Rawalpindi at the time of Bhutto's assassination, and former Rawal Town SP Khurram Shahzad were sentenced to 17 years each and ordered to pay a fine of Rs 0.5 million each.
Khurram Shahzad was accused of hosing down the crime scene less than two hours after the killing - an act the United Nations described in a report as "fundamentally inconsistent with Pakistani police practice".
Saud Aziz was accused of both giving Shahzad permission to hose down the scene, and of refusing multiple times to allow an autopsy of Bhutto's body to go ahead.
The two former police officials had earlier been granted bail and were present in court at the time the verdict was announced. According to the verdict, the former policemen had been awarded 10 years in prison under Section 119 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and seven years under Section 201 of the PPC.
Former president and military ruler Musharraf is alleged to have been part of a broad conspiracy to have his political rival killed before elections. He has denied the allegation.
He was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation for murder in 2013, in an unprecedented move against an ex-army chief, challenging beliefs the military is immune from prosecution.
But he has been in self-exile in Dubai ever since a travel ban was lifted three years later.
The anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi ruled he had "absconded", a court official told reporters outside, saying it had also ordered the confiscation of his property.
The judge acquitted five men who had been accused of being Taliban militants involved in the conspiracy to kill Bhutto on December 27, 2007.
They were set to walk free nearly 10 years after they were first arrested, though a defence lawyer said it was not yet clear when they would be released.
"My clients were held for nine years and eight months for nothing," Malik Jawad Khalid, the lawyer for three of the men - Rafaqat Hussain, Husnain Gul and Sher Zaman - told AFP.
Musharraf's government blamed the assassination on Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who denied any involvement. He was killed in a US drone attack in 2009. In 2010, the UN report accused Musharraf's government of failing to give Bhutto adequate protection and said her death could have been prevented.