An anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Rawalpindi has issued the detailed verdict in former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's murder case, holding two police officials guilty of ‘criminal negligence’ and declaring then-military dictator Pervez Musharraf a fugitive.
Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson and two-time former prime minister, was assassinated in a gun and bomb attack at an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh on December 27, 2007.
In the verdict announced in court on Thursday, almost 10 years after the assassination, five main suspects – Aitzaz Shah, Sher Zaman, Abdul Rasheed, Rafaqat Hussain and Hasnain Gul – were acquitted while two former police officials – CPO Rawalpindi Saud Aziz and SP Khuram Shahzad Haider – were each sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Moreover, former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was declared a proclaimed offender in the case.
ATC Judge Asghar Khan writes in the 34-page long detailed verdict that the two senior police officers showed “criminal negligence” by removing Bhutto's security, destroying key evidence, and allowing the crime scene to be washed merely hours after the deadly attack that left at least 21 others dead.
“The Elite police unit [which] was suppose[d] to provide the box security for Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto vehicle was not available and was removed by the accused Saood Aziz the then CPO,” according to the verdict.
Moreover, “there was no emergency plan in case of any undue incident. Vehicle of Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto after the occurrence was left alone because of the absence of police escort which could have escorted her vehicle to quickly reach the hospital,” the verdict points out.
The judge was also skeptical of the decision to wash the crime scene mere hours after the attack. “Decision to use fire hose on the crime scene within 1 hour and 40 minutes of the occurrence was unjustified and had resulted in destroying the crime scene, this destruction made it extremely difficult to collect more evidence for DNA tests.”
Regarding postmortem of Benazir’s body, the verdict mentions “non-conducting of postmortem on the dead body of Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto also damaged investigation due to which clear cause of death of Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto was not established. “
"The prosecution successfully proved its case against the accused Saood Aziz CPO and Khurram Shahzad SP, to the extent of their criminal negligence in performing their duty, therefore, they are convicted and sentenced," the verdict added.
However, the ATC judge said the prosecution failed to prove its case against five other accused.
“The prosecution is found to have miserably failed to prove its case against accused Rafaqat Hussain, Husnain Gul, Rasheed Ahmed and Sher Zaman beyond any shadow of doubt, hence, they are acquitted by giving benefit of doubt,” it said.
'Deliberate absence from court'
Pertaining to Musharraf, the verdict mentions that “before initiating proceedings…. an option was given to him to record his statement through video link or Skype but even then he did not show any response to record his statement.”
Thereby, “there was no other option left with the court except to separate the trial proceeding of the accused General Pervaiz Musharaf”.
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Musharraf’s “deliberate absence from the court is sufficient to declare him Proclaimed offender in this case. Proceedings u/s 88 Cr. P.C shall be initiated and his perpetual non bailable warrant of arrest be issued,” the verdict added.
Section 88 of the Code of Criminal Procedure deals with the attachment of property of the absconding person.
A FIR over the incident was registered on behalf of the state following which the murder trial of five suspects began in February of 2008. However, once PPP won the 2008 elections, the investigation was handed over to the FIA.ٖ