Military court convictions in Safoora Goth case challenged

ISLAMABAD: Five terrorists convicted of their involvement in the Safoora Goth massacre and the murder of a prominent social activist in Karachi have challenged their convictions before the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC).

On May 12, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced the confirmation of death sentences to ‘hardcore terrorists’ — Tahir Minhas, Saad Aziz, Asadur Rehman, Mohammad Azhar Ishrat and Hafiz Nasir Ahmed — in nine cases, which included the Safoora Goth carnage and the Sabeen Mahmud murder case.

The convicts had challenged their sentences before the military court of appeals, but the appellate court also upheld their conviction on Aug 20.

In the appeals filed before the LHC through Advocate Hashmat Habib, the convicts claim they had been “scapegoated” by law enforcement agencies.

In support of their claim, the petitions state that the five men had been in the custody of law enforcement agencies long before the government officially announced their arrest in connection with the two high-profile cases.

The convicts have also raised objections over the way they were tried by the military court.

According to the petitions, the Judge Advocate General — the military’s legal branch — did not give them sufficient time to prepare grounds for an appeal. They also claim to have not received copies of the court martial proceedings.

From a reading of the judgement, it appeared as if five appeals were rejected within a few seconds of each other on the same day, which is nothing but a mockery of the law and a miscarriage of justice, the petition maintains.

“The statements of the Sindh chief minister, the federal minister for interior, the prime minister and the army chief’s appreciation are conclusive proof of the fact that the accused were under custody prior to May 20, 2015” when police registered an FIR against them and claimed that they had been arrested after an ‘encounter’.

One of the convicts, Saad Aziz, claimed that he was a highly educated man with a clean track record and no past association with any criminal activities who had been implicated by the law enforcement agencies for the sake of ‘point scoring’.

According to the prosecution’s case, Minhas was the mastermind of the Safoora Goth carnage in which 47 members of the Ismaili Shia community were killed in an attack on their bus in Karachi on May 13 last year.

In March 2016, the federal government transferred the Safoora Goth and Sabeen Mahmud murder cases to military authorities for trail by military courts, established under the 21st amendment to the Constitution.

According to the investigation, Minhas had killed members of the Shia community supposedly to impress the leadership of the militant Islamic State (IS) group, in order to secure an important position within the global terrorist network.

The investigation claimed that Minhas was running his own local terrorist network and, being fed up with internal divisions among Taliban groups, wanted to join the IS. It was for this purpose that he developed contacts with leaders from the Middle Eastern terrorist group, often referred to by its Arabic acronym Daesh.

According to the investigation, IS announced the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in 2014. Its spokesperson Abu Mohammad Al-Adnani had released a video message proclaiming the establishment of the “Khorasan province” — which includes Pakistan and Afghanistan — and announcing the appointment of Hafiz Saeed Khan as its emir. Khan was earlier heading the Taliban in Orakzai Agency.

Investigators maintained that Minhas contacted Khan and swore allegiance to the IS, after which he was appointed IS emir for Karachi.

According to them, Saad Aziz had been to Afghanistan via Balochistan earlier in 2002 and received three months of training. During his stay there, he supposedly met the top Al Qaeda leadership, including Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Yahya and Hamza al-Misri in Helmand province.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2016

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