Senior cops convicted in BB murder case likely to be released today


RAWALPINDI Oct 6 (TNS): Two senior police officials convicted in the Benazir Bhutto murder case are likely to be released from Adiala Jail today.

On Thursday, the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) Rawalpindi Bench suspended the 17-year jail sentences and fines awarded to Additional Inspector General Saud Aziz and Senior Superintendent of Police Khurram Shahzad by the anti-terrorism court on August 31.

Aziz was the Rawalpindi city police officer and Shahzad the Rawal Town SP at the time of Bhutto’s assassination. They were both awarded 10 years in prison under Section 119 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and seven years under Section 201 of the PPC, and fined Rs1 million each for ‘facilitating commission of an offence’.

At present, Aziz has retired from the police force whereas Shahzad is the SSP Special Branch in Rawalpindi.

They had both challenged their conviction in the LHC’s Rawalpindi Bench which, on Thursday, suspended their conviction and ordered them to submit surety bonds worth Rs0.2 million each. The next hearing in the case is on November 27.

The officers had challenged their sentences through their counsels Azam Nazir Tarrar and Raja Ghanim Aabir, and the appeals were heard by a divisional bench comprising Justice Tariq Abbasi and Justice Habibullah Amir.

The counsel for the officers argued before the bench that his clients had been blamed for the entire episode whereas the five suspected terrorists were exonerated while then-president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s trial was separated as he is an absconder.

On September 29, the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) filed a petition in the LHC’s Rawalpindi Bench challenging the anti-terrorism court’s (ATC) decision in the murder case.

The petition maintains that the FIA has irrefutable evidence against the acquitted suspects — Aitzaz Shah, Sher Zaman, Abdul Rasheed, Rafaqat Hussain and Hasnain Gul.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) has also challenged the ATC’s decision.

Speaking to the media after challenging the verdict last month, PPP’s Latif Khosa, who was also a counsel in the case, said Benazir had repeatedly stated that Musharraf was not providing her security.

“She had said that Musharraf would be directly responsible in case anything happened to her,” he said.

He also claimed that Musharraf got Aziz, one of the two police officials punished in the case, posted as the Rawalpindi city police officer to ensure his role in the assassination. He accused Aziz of ordering the removal of a security cordon around Liaquat Bagh on December 27, 2007 so Benazir could be easily killed.

Khosa explained that they have filed three appeals on behalf of Benazir’s widower and former president Asif Ali Zardari: one challenges the order separating Musharraf’s trial from the case, the other is against the ‘lenient’ sentences against the police officers and the last against the suspected militants exonerated in the case.

BB, the PPP chief and two-time former prime minister, was assassinated in a suicide attack at an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh on December 27, 2007.

An 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.

More than 300 hearings of the case were held, while over the course of time six judges were changed and seven challans submitted in the trial that began on February 29, 2008.