Perween Rahman murder case: SHC acquits all accused

In a major development, the Sindh High Court on Monday acquitted all the five men sentenced in the Perween Rahman murder case after citing lack of evidence and ordered their release.

Perween, a renowned rights activist, was shot dead in Karachi in 2013, an assassination that shocked the entire country in general and the citizens of the port city in particular.

The order issued by the SHC (Sindh High Court) read that “…the appellants are entitled to the benefit of the doubt as a matter of right as opposed to concession and in this case, as mentioned above we have found many doubts concerning the appellant’s involvement in the murder of the deceased.”

Earlier in December last year, an anti-terrorism court had sentenced four of the accused – Abdul Raheem Swati, Ahmed Khan, Amjad Hussain Khan and Ayaz Swati – to life imprisonment and Imran Swati for seven years.

The trial court’s verdict, which was issued after eight long years of proceedings, was subsequently challenged in the high court.

In its judgement, a two-member SHC bench, comprising Justice KK Agha and Justice Zulfiqar Ali Sangi, observed that none of the accused had been charged with “actually murdering” Rahman. Instead, the court said, the accused were charged with “planning, instigating and in effect abetting the murder”.

The judges also agreed with the appellants’ lawyer on the contention that Perween’s interview, which she gave in 2011 and aired after her murder, was inadmissible evidence. The court concluded that it be excluded from the case.

According to the judgment, the murder case did not fall in the anti-terrorism court’s jurisdiction as it was found that the motive behind the killing was not to create terror but land-grabbing.

“And as such, all appellants are acquitted of any offence under the ATA [Anti-Terrorism Act] in the impugned judgement,” the court order read.

In light of this, the court said, accused Rahim Swati’s confession, which was recorded under Section 21 (H) of the ATA and later disowned, should have been recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Therefore, “we place no reliance on it” and it was also “inadmissible in evidence”, it added.

The court also observed that prior to this confession, there was no tangible evidence against any of the accused and even if all pieces of evidence were admitted, they failed to prove the charge against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court also ruled that the “required ingredients” of the charge of abetting the crime were not proved against any of the accused.

Perween, was heading the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) and had devoted her life to the development of impoverished neighbourhoods, was gunned down near her office in Orangi Town on March 13, 2013.

Initially, a case for her murder was registered under Sections 302 (premeditated murder) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code at the Pirabad Police Station.

Later, Section 7 (punishment for acts of terrorism) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, was added to the first information report on the basis of a judicial inquiry conducted by then-district and sessions judge (west) Ghulam Mustafa Memon on the orders of the Supreme Court.

In March 2021, the ATC was told that the assassinated rights activist had identified and named “land grabbers and extortionists” for trying to illegally occupy the land of the Orangi Pilot Project’s office in an interview recorded around 15 months before she was allegedly killed by the same group.

In the interview, Rahman had called Raheem Swati a “land grabber and extortionist” and stated that the latter wanted to illegally occupy the land of the OPP’s office, the charge sheet had stated.

Investigation into the murder revealed that Rahman, who was the director of the Orangi Pilot Project, was murdered by hitmen for Rs4 million.

A joint investigation team (JIT) was formed to probe the murder of the social worker. The accused, Hussain, had told the team that Raheem and local ANP leader Ayaz were asking Rahman to hand over a piece of land to them. However, after she refused, the political party’s leader paid a banned organisation to murder her, he told the JIT.

The investigations further revealed that the plan to murder her was made at Raheem’s residence in January 2013, with Hussain, Ayaz Swati, and Ahmed Khan in attendance.

The accused tasked two militants — Mehfozullah alias “Bhaloo” and Moosa — of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) to kill her in exchange for Rs4 million.

Hussain and the other accused surveilled Rahman for two months and provided information regarding her activities and whereabouts to the militants of the banned outfit.

Moreover, he said that after the murder, Raheem did not pay the militants. Following this, the banned TTP members carried out a grenade attack on his house.

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