Sindh High Court deadline to punish Wali Babar’s killers missed
By: Amir Mir
LAHORE: An Anti-Terrorism Court of Karachi has failed to meet the 45-day deadline fixed by the Sindh High Court to wrap up the proceedings in Wali Khan Babar murder case and take the killers to task.
Wali Khan Babar, 29, was gunned down on January 13, 2012, hardly a few hours after covering a police investigation in Pehlawan Goth, a Karachi locality with a high level of violence. According to the findings of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed to probe the murder, the eight arrested accused were members of the notorious death squad of a Karachi-based ethnic group. Karachi’s Anti Terrorism Court No III was directed by the Sindh High Court on October 19, 2012 to wrap up the Wali Babar murder case within 45 days. However, the December 4 deadline has already expired, with no tangible progress in the case, mainly because of the elimination of the last surviving witness, Haider Ali alias Saleem.
A total of 23 people witnessed the murder of the Geo News’ reporter but only six had taken the risk of testifying before the Karachi ATC which is conducting the trial inside Karachi Central Prison due to security concerns. But unfortunately, all the six were gunned down one by one in a frighteningly systematic manner over a period of past 22 months.
Haider Ali, the sixth and the last surviving witness, who had already identified four of the five suspects before a magistrate was killed on November 11, just two days before he was to testify before the ATC. Two armed men barged into his house in the Soldier Bazar area and shot him. His murder sent shockwaves across the country which is tagged as one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists and one of the worst in bringing the killers to justice.
Haider Ali, for whom the Sindh High Court had ordered extra protection, was killed despite being underground.
Senior officials of the Karachi Police, who are dealing with Wali Babar’s murder, believe that the December 4 deadline set by the Sindh High Court to decide the case might have prompted the assailants to physically eliminate the last remaining eyewitness to stop him from testifying before the court. After the murder of Haider Ali, the police officials say, it would be quite hard for the trial court to convict the killers. The accused have been charged with murder and common intent under the Pakistan Penal Code and under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. While one suspect was killed in an encounter with Darakshan police in March 2012, five other men have been declared fugitives.
According to the findings of the Joint Investigation Team consisting of the officers from the Military Intelligence (MI), Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Rangers Intelligence (RI), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Special Branch (SB) of Sindh Police, the eight accused had disclosed while confessing their role in Wali Babar’s murder that the assassination orders were issued by their boss – Adeel aka Agha Murtaza – believed to be operating from South Africa. Adeel aka Agha Murtaza had passed orders to Faisal Mota and Asif aka Waseem Commando. Both of them subsequently finalised the murder plan, before distributing Wali Khan Babar’s snaps among 28 shooters, eight of whom have already been arrested.
The first batch of the five accused in the murder was arrested from the Gulshan-e-Iqbal area on the night of April 8, 2011 while they were riding a stolen vehicle. Those nabbed from Karachi included Shah Rukh aka Maani, Faisal Mahmood aka Nafsiati, Shakeel aka Malik, Syed Tahir Naveed Shah aka Polka and Syed Mohammad Ali Rizvi. The second batch of two accused was taken into custody from Hyderabad’s Liaquat Market on December 9, 2011. Those arrested from Hyderabad included Syed Kamran aka Zeeshan Lamba and Faheem aka Buddhu. A year later, on November 13, 2012, the agencies arrested another alleged killer – Asif alias Waseem Commando – from the College Road area of Town Ship in Lahore. Yet another alleged killer – Arif Commando – was also nabbed from Township area of Lahore on December 12, 2012.
According to senior officials of the Karachi Police, the confessional statements made by the eight arrested accused, coupled with those of the eye witnesses would have been enough to take the killers to task. But they added in the same breath that the physical elimination of all the six eye witnesses has made it really difficult for the Anti Terrorism Court to convict the assassins. Two well-know international organisations that promote press freedom and defend the rights of journalists across the globe have already decried the failure of the Pakistani authorities to protect eyewitnesses in Wali Babar’s murder case.
“The cold-blooded murders could make it impossible for the authorities to successfully conclude the trial and could dash any hope of justice in this case”, said a press release by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Borders (RSB). The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also condemned the targeted killings of the witness in the Wali Babar murder. “The murder of witnesses and investigators proves that there is an organized group which is involved in the murder. But it seems that the government and law enforcement agencies are too scared to come forward and say who is behind these brazen killings”.