Six leaders of Hafiz Saeed-led Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD), the front organisation for the proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), responsible for carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attack, were acquitted by Pakistan's Lahore High Court (LHC) on Saturday. The members were earlier sentenced in connection with a terror-financing case.
Lashkar-e-Taiba orchestrated the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed more than 160 people.
According to Dawn, the trial court had sentenced nine-year imprisonment to each Prof Malik Zafar Iqbal, Yahya Mujahid, Nasrullah, Samiullah and Umar Bahadur while Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki had been awarded a six-month jail term.
"The appellants challenged their conviction before a division bench of the LHC comprising Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh. Their counsel argued that the prosecution failed to prove the charge against the appellants beyond a reasonable doubt. He said the trial court had not appreciated the evidence properly which had caused the serious miscarriage of justice," Pakistani media reported.
He argued that the Al-Anfaal Trust, of which the appellants were members, had no nexus with the proscribed Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT).
The counsel contended that there was not a whit of evidence that the appellants engaged in any activity that supported the objectives of the LeT or other such organisation. He said the appellants had already disassociated them from the trust way back in the mid-2000s, Dawn reported.
An additional prosecutor general opposed the appeals and argued that the trust was working as a proxy for the LeT owing to which the government proscribed it in 2019. He said the appellants were trustees/office bearers and staunch activists of the trust.
Allowing the appeals, the division bench observes that the statement of the main prosecution witness is not reliable as there is no corroboratory evidence, Dawn reported.
"In his cross-examination, Inspector Muhammad Khalid (prosecution witness) conceded that the local police station never received any complaint against the appellants and even during his investigation nobody from the general public brought anything to his notice which could expose their malefactions," the bench noted.
The bench remarks that it is trite that the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt to secure the conviction of an accused.
It maintains, "The appellants cannot be convicted for the mere reason that LeT or the trust have been proscribed," Dawn reported.
The bench ruled that the prosecution must independently establish the ingredients of the offences under sections 11-F and 11-J(2) of the ATA which it has failed to do.
Meanwhile, JuD chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and several other leaders have been convicted in dozens of FIRs registered by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) on charges of terror financing. The CTD had registered as many as 41 FIRs against the JuD leaders in different cities, Dawn reported.
(With inputs from ANI)